MANTECA BULLETIN ALL-AREA BOYS BASKETBALL TEAM
Offensive Player of the Year
Dylan Alexander, Weston Ranch guard, junior: Scored a season-high 32 points on 10-of-22 shooting, 4-of-8 on 3s, in 72-71 loss to Vista del Lago in SJS Division III playoff opener. The 6-foot-4 Alexander has NBA range but has improved in his ability to drive and finish. He checked in with 19.5 points per game, shot 52 percent from the field, 38 percent from 3 range and 75 percent on free throws.
Defensive Player of the Year
Emmanuel Elijah, Sierra guard, junior
Comments: One would have to look past Elijah’s season averages to truly appreciate what he did in Sierra’s historic season. The 5-foot-9 guard was the igniter for the Timberwolves on both ends of the floor, hitting the occasional big shot and coming up with the steals to jump start the offense. He averaged 6.9 points, 3.8 rebounds and 1.9 steals and is poised for a breakout in 2012-13.
Dan Vos, Ripon Christian guard, junior: Southern League’s MVP ranked fifth in the state in assists (242, 8.1 per game) while adding 10.2 points and 2.8 steals.
Guillermo Nunez, Sierra guard, junior: The facilitator of Sierra’s balanced attack contributed 11.3 points and 3.3 assists and did some of his best work in the playoffs.
Jared Goslinga, Ripon Christian forward, senior: Prolific 6-foot-5 forward poured in a season-best 37 points in a section playoff game and averaged 16.2 to go with 7.3 boards.
Jake McCreath, Ripon center, senior: The 6-foot-4 football standout was a bruiser on the hardwood, turning in 13 points, 12.3 rebounds and 1.2 blocks per game.
Daiveon Leverett, Weston Ranch center, junior: Highlight-reel dunker put his 6-foot-7 frame to good use, averaging 13.3 points, 8.3 rebounds and two blocks.
— Jonamar Jacinto
Will Ward set three goals at the start of the 2011-12 basketball season.
“MVP, win VOL, get to Arco,” he said.
Check, check and check.
Sierra High and its 6-foot-5 center achieved all that and more.
He was named Most Valuable Player after leading the Timberwolves to an undefeated run through the Valley Oak League. They reached the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III finals at Power Balance Pavilion (formerly Arco Arena) for the second time in program history.
Sierra went on a 26-game winning streak that was snapped in the section finale and finished with a program-best 27-4 record.
A lot of that came unexpectedly to most.
Sierra overachieved with underwhelming talent, but its 2011-12 run was no fluke. While some may have more size and athleticism, few teams in the Sac-Joaquin Section were better.
Ward may be the first tell you he was the beneficiary of good coaching and unselfish teammates who took pressure off of him by hitting outside shots or helping him do the dirty work inside. Without question, though, the team benefitted from having arguably the best low-post player in the region.
The 270-pound post presence was a force in the paint. A left tackle and defensive end for the school’s football team, Ward is nimble for his size and possesses soft hands and long arms.
But he was more than just an immovable object in the low block. Ward is a throwback with his back-to-the-basket skill, and with his ability find open teammates Sierra’s offense ran oftentimes through its center.
“This team had a whole bunch of pieces that worked together,” said Ward, who averaged 14.7 points and 10.4 rebounds in the regular season. “Everyone loved their role. We played as a team and used each other’s strengths. We didn’t have the talent that other teams may have, but we had so much cohesiveness. I had never seen that before.”
Ward and Sierra found out early in the season that they could do something special.
The Timberwolves had noteworthy wins over small-school powers Ripon and Central Catholic — SJS Division IV and V playoff finalists, respectively. Ripon and Central Catholic also have dominant big men. Both were outplayed by Ward, who outscored Central’s 6-9 center, John Fenton, 22-9.
Sierra also proved it could match up with successful Division-I teams in wins over Golden Valley and Lodi. All four of those games resulted in blowout victories for Sierra.
“Everybody was ready to put Lodi at the top of the playoff brackets at that time, so that was a big deal for us,” Ward said.
Sierra went on to roll every opponent through the first half of the VOL season, none more emphatically than its 84-56 drubbing of Weston Ranch — the reigning champion that returned four of its five starters from its 2011 that went undefeated in conference play.
Only three out of their 14 league games were decided by single-digit margins, an impressive feat considering the VOL’s parity this past season. Five of the eight VOL squads qualified for the playoffs.
Ward and the Timberwolves had an up-and-down postseason, however. In the second round, No. 2-seeded Sierra barely got past Los Banos, 49-44.
Questions were raised and were quickly answered in the semifinals. The Timberwolves defeated a talented Center team, 67-50. Reserve guard Tim Thornton led the way with 24 points while sinking 6 of 8 3-poointers. Ward added 19 points, 11 rebounds, four blocks and four assists.
“That was probably our best moment of the year,” Ward said.
That was the exclamation point to the team’s remarkable winning streak, one that Ward wasn’t aware of until late in the league season.
“We lost track of it,” Ward said. “We didn’t talk about it until we hit 20 in Oakdale. Looking back, that was pretty crazy that we were able to do that.”
Ward’ three-year varsity career ended with a two-game losing streak.
At Power Balance Pavilion Sierra met top-seeded Foothill, which raced to a 74-52 victory. Ward did more watching than playing. Foul trouble kept him sidelined for most of the game. He finished with just nine points and four rebounds after fouling out with 3:43 remaining.
“It just killed me not being able to play with my teammates out there,” Ward said. “Nobody had scored on us like that, nobody got to the basket on us like that and nobody outrebounded us like that. After the game I was in tears. I felt like I could have done something about that game.”
Sierra’s first-round contest in the CIF Northern California playoffs hurt just as bad.
Leading by 10 with 2:57 to go, the Timberwolves imploded late and fell to visiting Miramonte in overtime, 73-68. Miramonte’s Kiran Shastri poured in 38 points — the most Sierra gave up to a single player all season.
“One guy lit us up — that’s just something we don’t let happen,” Ward said. “We lost two out of our first three games at the beginning of the year, but that was us still shaping up and getting ready for league. In the last two losses we just got away from what we did well all season.”
Despite the heartbreaking end, the overall body of work was impressive.
“I think we’re on the map now,” Ward said. “We feel like we’ve got a good program that is led by a great coach (Scott Thomason). With talent absent from our team, we made a statement that teamwork is better than talent.”