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Longtime friends helped Sierra reach new heights
Sierra Duo All Area

Neither Joshua Patton nor Hunter Johnson knows what the future holds.

The cornerstones of the Sierra High boys basketball team will continue their athletic careers at the collegiate level, but that next step doesn’t come without uncertainty or questions.

For Patton, a two-time Valley Oak League MVP and prized recruit of Sacramento State, the question is not if he’ll play in college, but when?

The 6-foot-8 center will redshirt his freshman year in the Capital City, hoping to put on muscle and immerse himself in a program on the come under coach Brian Katz.

Patton’s partner in the paint, Johnson, has the ability and drive to play at the next level, but the three-sport star’s college plans remain undecided deep into his senior year.

Will his path finish in the end zone? Or at the rim? And for whom?

“I’m not sure yet. Right now it’s baseball season,” said Johnson, an all-Valley Oak League wide receiver and punter. “I have nothing right now. I still don’t know what sport I’m going to play.”

While their futures remain somewhat unsettled, their pasts will forever be intertwined in the record books.

Patton and Johnson steered Sierra’s historic season. The Timberwolves won a program-best 30 games, earned a fourth straight Valley Oak League crown, won their first Sac-Joaquin Section championship and reached the NorCal Division III semifinal round.

Along the way, the towers of power racked up double-doubles, turned games with their defense and versatility, and captained a veteran-laden club with the same steely focus as their coach.

For their efforts, Patton and Johnson have been named the Bulletin’s All-Area Boys Basketball Players of the Year.

“We had to pick our poison,” Manteca coach Brett Lewis said. “It was virtually impossible to stop both.”

That the two share the award should come as a surprise to no one.

They were named the VOL’s co-MVPs, as voted on by the league’s coaches. They’ve combined to win three VOL basketball titles in four years, including two varsity titles. And they’ve been best friends since elementary school.

“I feel fortunate. Not a lot of people can do that, share an award like that,” said Patton, who averaged a team-best 15.3 points, 10.1 rebounds and 3.3 blocks.

“To break records and make it this far in the playoffs while playing with your best friend was amazing. As many could see, we knew where we would be (on the court) and what our strengths and weaknesses were. Playing with him was a great way to end our senior season.”

Each insists their friendship created an advantage for the Timberwolves. They’ve been teammates since their first organized basketball team — the pint-sized Pistons of the Parks and Recreation youth league.

That bond carried Sierra through the section’s Division III playoffs and helped them overcome prolonged spells without Patton, who was slowed by the flu and hampered by foul trouble through the first three rounds.

Johnson averaged a double-double in six playoff games — 14.8 points and 11.8 rebounds — confirming the MVP votes cast in his direction all season.

The 6-foot-4 forward was named the MVP at the Adidas Trojan Christmas Classic in December, and then averaged 13.4 points and 8.7 rebounds en route to a share of the VOL’s top individual award.

“When I got sick, it was hard to play through that. I couldn’t do much,” Patton said. “Having Devin (Nunez) have that game where he had 27. Having Daniel (Wyatt) go out and get 22 that same game, plus what Hunter did all season, it took everything off my back.

“I’m so grateful that I had teammates that worked hard and picked it up when we needed them to.”

Patton would leave his mark on the postseason’s grandest stage, turning in a monster performance in the section’s D-III final at Sleep Train Arena.

He recorded 24 points, 12 rebounds and nine blocked shots as the Timberwolves repelled Weston Ranch for a third time this season, 67-51.

“We’ve never had a guy like him,” Sierra coach Scott Thomason said. “He sets the presence.”

With the victory, Patton made good on a promise he made to himself at the season’s start. He vowed to put a boys basketball section banner on The Den’s wall, where track and girls soccer banners collect in clusters.

“Winning that section title, that was a dream come true,” he said. “That’ll be the one thing I remember the most.”

Thomason said each belongs on the school’s Mount Rushmore, joining a debate that already includes Guillermo Nunez, Christian Williams and Will Ward, among others.

“It’s going to be hard to top what those guys did,” Thomason said. “I don’t like to compare teams, but it’s almost like with the guys we’ve had in the past, they’re always trying to top each other. What Hunter and JP did this year, there’s a lot of firsts. First section championship. First state playoff win. Fourteen and oh in league. They set the bar high.”

Though Johnson has yet to pick a college or a sport, Patton hasn’t ruled out a reunion at the next level.

He’s lobbied the Sacramento State coaching staff to take a closer look at Johnson, a unique talent comfortable on the low block or along the perimeter. Thomason has called the 6-foot-4 Johnson the most versatile player in the school’s 20-year history.

“They know about him. They’ve watched him play. I’ve tried to get them to offer him,” Patton said. “It would be amazing to play another four to five years together.”

“I’ve played with this guy forever and we’re about to graduate. I know whatever he does, he’ll do great. I’m going to do the same thing. I think we’ll both be fine.”