Joshua Patton had a goal in mind when he first stepped foot on the Sierra High campus as a freshman.
The 6-foot-7 center knew that he would be able to challenge the school’s records for blocked shots with his natural blend of length and instincts.
“I remember asking coach ‘T’ (Scott Thomason) what the record was,” Patton said. “I told him I was going to try and beat that number.”
He did all that and more as a junior, but now he is hungry to best any and all individual and team merits achieved this past winter.
Patton is the Bulletin’s 2013-14 All-Area MVP after leading Sierra to its third straight Valley Oak League championship. He averaged 11.1 points while converting 62 percent of his shots from the field, but it is on defense where he left his mark. Patton pulled down 9.1 rebounds and 1.2 steals per game, and his 48 blocks is Sierra’s new single-season standard. He was also named MVP of the VOL.
The Timberwolves also reached the 20-win barrier under Thomason for the eighth time in 10 years, an impressive feat after graduating a core of seniors that made back-to-back Sac-Joaquin Section Division III championship appearances.
An up-and-down start to the season created some doubt as to whether Sierra could sustain that level of success. To be fair, consecutive nonleague losses to Golden Valley and Cordova were competitive, and both opponents were eventual conference champs from higher divisions. And that 24-point loss to Cosumnes Oaks? A lot of other good teams were dealt similar blows by one of the state’s top squads.
The head scratching came from a 62-36 setback against Oakland (13-13) and an overtime loss to Tokay — a sub-.500 team that the Timberwolves had beaten by double digits a week before.
Sierra was 7-5 going into its VOL schedule (the loss to Cosumnes Oaks would later be overturned, as the Wolfpack forfeited 16 wins for using an ineligible player).
Patton insists he and the team were better for the less-than-stellar start.
“The losses that we had early in the preseason, that just made us come together more as a team,” Patton said. “We had team talks with the coaches and everything. After we lost to Cosumnes Oaks we were disgusted. We didn’t want to go through that again so everyone just bought in.”
That was when the Timberwolves began to show glimpses of their predecessors. Starting with pre-league blowouts of Edison and Johansen, Sierra mounted a 13-game winning streak and did so by an average margin of 16.5 points.
By the end of that run Patton had established himself as a force in the middle for Sierra. For the time, all three schools in town had legitimate bigs; Manteca with Mikey Hatfield and East Union with Jake Danhoff — both 6-foot-6 seniors and All-VOL first-team selections.
“They are two great players and I have a lot of respect for both of them,” Patton said. “I’ve known Mikey for a long time. I didn’t know Danhoff that well, but playing against them was a really fun experience. I love playing against people my size. It challenges me.”
Of course, Patton was challenged enough in practice with 6-4 veteran Jonnythan Munkholm, leading scorer Hunter Johnson and several others on a squad loaded with frontcourt depth.
“That was really good for my development,” Patton said. “Jonnythan is really a great player. He was always pushing me to work harder, and him being a senior he was always a person that I could talk to. Practicing against him, Hunter, Jordan (Thompson), Zak (DeRossett) and Justan (Meredith) every day just made things easier for me during games.”
Patton made it look easy on Feb. 14 in an impressive 71-46 win at Weston Ranch. The Timberwolves were coming off a heartbreaking 47-45 loss at the buzzer to cross-town foe Manteca, and the sophomore-heavy Cougars at Weston Ranch were looking to finish the job in the rematch after previously coming up short in a 61-59 defeat at Sierra.
Sierra fed its center early and often as he set the tone on both ends of the court. He ended up with a triple double — 18 points, 13 rebounds and 10 blocked shots.
“In the previous game we had lost to Manteca,” Patton said. “I put a lot of that on my back because of that last-second shot Mikey hit over me. I was focused on the days leading up — I didn’t want to lose again.”
Unfortunately for the Timberwolves, they would lose again. Twice.
Sierra’s great mid-season flurry was capped by a 1-3 finish. The T’Wolves dropped another thriller after looking unbeatable against Weston Ranch, losing 66-62 in overtime at Lathrop, which needed a win to qualify for the postseason.
Then in the first round of the SJS playoffs, sixth-seeded Sierra was stunned by a hot-shooting No. 11 Central Valley team, 60-43. Patton (13 points, 10 rebounds, four blocks) did all he could, igniting a 13-4 run in the second quarter with two dunks and three blocks to close Sierra in 29-24 at one point.
The sour end to the season further motivates Patton going into his senior year. As a sophomore he was called up from the lower levels for Sierra’s second straight jaunt to Sleep Train Arena, the annual site of the SJS championship games.
He was more spectator than participant. Patton is gunning for another trip back to the section finals, this time with a bigger role.
“I didn’t get to play at Arco (the former name of Sleep Train Arena), but being there in the locker room and running onto the court before the game was amazing,” Patton said. “Coming up short of that this year makes me really hungry. My senior year I want to be able to say that I got to go back to Arco, but I also want to win at Arco. That would be the first time that has happened at Sierra High.”
Why not? Patton has already made history at the school.