RIPON – Rod Wright and his staff are in charge of the official book, access to the locker rooms and providing a game ball.
Inflated, of course.
The Ripon boys basketball team will be the home team for tonight’s much-anticipated intra-city rivalry, but Wright understands this about its opponent.
If his young team is going to contend for a Trans-Valley League championship this season – as it hopes – all roads lead through Ripon Christian, the new kid from around the block.
The Knights have arrived in the Trans-Valley League a ready-made contender with a senior-laden roster and a dynamic scorer in Sean Broker, and they’ve done little to disappoint through three games.
Ripon Christian has won 13 of its first 17 games and is 3-0 in league play with double-digit victories over Hilmar and Riverbank.
“They’re back in our league, so (the rivalry) takes on more emphasis this year,” Wright said. “They’re dominating with seniors and one junior. They’re starting five is very strong because of that experience.
“I told (Ripon Christian coach Ron Vander Molen), ‘If you don’t win this year, you’re not ever going to win it.’ Everyone else is young.”
Including Wright’s Indians, who get a bulk of their production and leadership from sophomores Cole Stevens and Aaron Paschini and senior transfer Mario Roach. The triumvirate constitutes nearly 72 percent of Ripon’s offense.
The Indians have been just as impressive in the early going, winning its first three league games. Wright says there is a confidence and chemistry brewing amongst his fresh-faced bunch that wasn’t there a month ago.
“Our group is brand new. This team last year was on JV or wasn’t even at Ripon High,” Wright said. “It’s all brand new and it’s taken us awhile to get it going. Hopefully, we’ve turned a corner.”
Vander Molen realizes just how explosive the Indians can be. He’s watched Ripon a few times this season and been impressed with the speed and shiftiness of Roach and shot-making ability of Stevens, who leads the Indians at 16.2 points per game.
Roach is second at 14.5 points, while Paschini is netting just under 13.
“The new kid, Mario Roach, is pretty tough to contain and Cole Stevens can be very lethal,” Vander Molen said. “He can really go off, in terms of perimeter shooting.
“I try to watch how individuals play,” he added. “I try to focus on what they’ll do in match-ups with my players, rather than over emphasize what their team does because that can always change.”
Wright has his own matchup problems to worry about.
The Indians (12-8) give away considerable height at every position on the floor, and they’ll also have to figure out a way to slow down one of the area’s hottest players.
The 6-foot, 4-inch Broker is averaging 22.4 points and 7.9 rebounds, and he’s shooting 64 percent from the floor.
“Broker is big and trying to contain him is all you want,” Wright said. “He’s a big body and that’s something we don’t have. We don’t have any of those big, physical specimens.”
The Knights have a fleet of complimentary players in Travis Vander Molen (12 points, 5.9 rebounds), Danny Vander Molen (9.1 points, 5.1 assists) and Austin Alger (8.4 points). They also boast a better than 2-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio.
“We pass well, share the ball and move the ball. When we do that, we’re on top of our game,” coach Vander Molen said. “We haven’t been turning the ball over much and that helps. If we do that, I think we have the offensive firepower to come out ahead.
“You can have two good shooters and two good rebounders, but everybody has to be a passer. If you have one bad passer, it really hurts the team. We don’t have that this year.”