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Expect the unexpected in this year’s Curry Invitational

By From page B1 | December 11, 2012

DHS junior Brandon Strong (15) drives around a defender in a game earlier this season. The 5-2 Blue Devils host the Les Curry Invitational beginning Thursday. Fred Gladdis/Enterprise file photo

If Las Vegas bookmakers got ahold of this week’s 10th annual Les Curry Invitational, once the smoke clears at Davis High they almost certainly will have taken a bath.

There’s undefeated Chico High (7-0), which sports a pair of emerging junior guards. Then the field has tournament regular Will C. Wood — a 3-3 school that is itching to put two good games together.

The host Blue Devils are averaging 93 ppg and would like to repeat their 2010 Curry championship.

But lo and behold! There’s 0-7 Center which — should its sleeping Isaiah Jones awake — could take all the Les Curry beans up its stalk.

“We like this field a lot,” DHS head coach Dan Gonzalez told The Enterprise earlier in the season. “It’s different from past years.”

Gone is last year’s champion Vanden as the tournament tips off with Wood and surprise-package Center at 4 p.m. on Thursday. American Canyon and Chico are up next at 5:30 p.m.

Playing in the next-to-last game of the night are the Devils and Colfax (7 p.m.) with Christian Brothers and Natomas in the nightcap.

Favorites? Ask Vegas. Davis is girded to play well in its first home outing since its Nov. 26 “practice” game against Vacaville. With their ability to score in bunches, Blue Devil coach Gonzalez likes his boys’ chances.

Chico, Wood and Center are jammed in a bracket that appears to offer American Canyon little chance to advance.

If the locals get past Division III Colfax, it looks like a date with Christian Brothers on Friday. From one Falcon mascot to another.

From there, who knows?

Here’s a look at the Curry Eight and a who’s who of players to watch.

American Canyon (2-5) — In only their third year of existence, the Wolves just finished fourth in their own tournament.

Led by Jermaine Boddie inside, the outside play of Michael DeGuzman and Troy Wallace already has AC equaling its win total from a 2-25 campaign in 2011-12.

Meshach Osborne is the Wolves’ first-year coach.

Center (0-7) — An able-bodied but struggling Center squad could provide high intrigue this week.

Yep. The Cougars are without a win so far. But get this … They are 48-17 the past two seasons, lost late in D-III Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs (and were runners-up in 2011) and were invited to the NorCal portion of the state tournament each of those seasons.

Veteran coach Ray Gagnon’s team has played only three schools with winning records thus far, but a closer look at his roster hints Center could get it together at any second.

Jones is a 6-foot-9 low-poster who is averaging nine points and 10 boards. Xavier Howell (a 6-4 forward) is coming around with nine ppg. It’s just a matter of time for these Sacramento visitors.

Chico (7-0) — The Eastern League Panthers may be scary good. At 27-4 last winter, CHS won the Northern Section D-I championship and made it to the NorCal semifinals before falling to Bay Area power Archbishop Mitty, 85-59.

The Panthers have a trio of juniors — guards Jesse Holmes and Josh Martin and wing Burak Kartekeli — who run the offense. Holmes is averaging 18 ppg with five assists a night, while Karekeli and Martin go for 11 ppg.

Chico has made the Curry final twice in the past four seasons: losing to Nevada Union in 2008 and Vanden last December.

Christian Brothers (3-2) — A 76-69 loser to Davis last year in this tournament, the Falcons have shown they can score this month, getting 61 ppg.

That improved offense is thanks to senior forward Ahkelo Witherspoon (17 points a game with a half-dozen rebounds) and guard Prestin Barnett (14 ppg).

Mix in board-pounders Taylor Ross and 6-7 junior Hayden Jones (15 caroms a game between the two) and these Falcons could give the Devils all they can handle.

Colfax (5-2) — Even though they’re D-III, these Falcons just went 2-1 in the Pacific Grove Invitational, losing only to Salinas powerhouse Palma — but exposing their defense in that 71-24 loss.

Once the run-and-gun Blue Devils get a whiff of that, expect the locals to approach the 100-shot threshold on Thursday.

The Colfax strength — height — could be its weakness against DHS.

With three guys over 6-6 — Will Buell, Wade Lewis and Matt Larson — getting back on defense was obviously a challenge against Palma last week.

The Pioneer Valley school was 10-17 last winter and last played the Devils in the 2010 Gold Dust Tournament in El Dorado. The Falcons lost that contest, 55-53.

Davis (5-2) — The hosts won the Curry two years ago.

But things have changed …

In beating Wood, 45-39, DHS scored in that game what it scored in one quarter against Natomas in a 108-69 win this month.

Gonzalez has adopted a new policy of going longer with his hot hands despite The System manual calling for hockey-like line changes every 50 or 70 seconds.

With guards Hayden Russell and Grant Dickerson playing extended roles and forward Kevin Sorensen providing his usual strong inside game, the Blue Devils’ other-world offense is even more prolific than 2011-12.

Natomas (0-3) — The Nighthawks have been a revolving coaches’ door after DHS Athletic Director Dennis Foster left the school. Foster had spent eight seasons as Natomas’ basketball mentor.

NHS was respectable a year ago at 15-11 and Jaminson Lyons provides a legitimate game at both ends of the court, but don’t expect the ‘Hawks to break out this weekend.

Will C. Wood (3-3) — Coach Mark Wudel knows how to win. His Wildcats went 15-12 and missed the playoffs last year, but he’s averaged more than 20 wins a season in his last six campaigns.

Guard Davis Wade (10 ppg) and 6-4 forward Jamal Brown (nine points a night) have carried the Wood luggage to this point.

If the ‘Cats and Devils miss each other this weekend, they’ll meet for sure at DHS in a nonleague outing Dec. 18.

Notes: Les Curry was a longtime Davis High basketball coach who was the father of Blue Devil and UCLA legend Denise Curry. … The Davis boys finished 2-1 in the Honk Williams Memorial Tournament last weekend in Vacaville. The Devils lost 102-92 on Friday to then-unbeaten Armijo. The Indians (6-1) dropped a 74-68 championship decision to East Union (Manteca) the following night.

— Reach Bruce Gallaudet at [email protected] or 530-747-8047.

Bruce Gallaudet

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