Down is up. Black is white. The Delta Valley Conference is one big rabbit hole, down which six frisky boys basketball teams will fall next Wednesday.
“Without a strong Franklin, that’s what opens the door for everybody,” Davis High coach Dan Gonzalez told The Enterprise. “But I’m not counting Franklin out. Jesse’s (Formaker) a good coach and he’ll have them ready. He’ll come up with something.”
Only the Red Queen — four-time defending league champ Franklin (6-8) — has a losing record among the league’s schools.
Perennially mediocre Laguna Creek (9-6) is the new Alice in Wonderland, thanks to 6-foot-8 junior Burbank transfer Malik Pope. And now comes word that a trio of other newcomers are eligible to play this month.
Tweedledee and Tweedledum — Elk Grove (10-6) and Monterey Trail (8-7) — could skate along side-by-side, and inconsistent Grant (this group’s White Rabbit) is poised to make some teams larger … and others small.
Then there’s the Mad Hatter, those rascally Blue Devils …
As evidenced by last season and early this winter, DHS is liable to score 100 points, allow 100 points, or both, on any given night.
Formaker, the Franklin coach whose school has won 20 or more games in each of his seven seasons with the Wildcats, told the media that while the rest of the DVC “has taken a step up … (we) have probably taken a step back.”
A closer look at what’s happened to date among the DVC dandies reveals a wide-open race. Regardless of which squad climbs from the curious world of this basketball conference, Formaker thinks three or four losses could be good enough for a championship.
While most eyes gaze upon Franklin, Laguna Creek and Davis as favorites, Gonzalez notes that Grant “has had a difficult schedule … and at 10-5, I would put Grant as the No. 1 team right now. Grant is Grant. They’re going to be fast … they’re just athletic. They have their big kids back.”
After a 14-12 season in which they missed the playoffs by a notch, the Devils have some unfinished business at hand.
A quick look around speaks volumes about what’s ahead …
Davis (9-6) — The third-highest-scoring squad in the nation (90.4 ppg) features stunning guard Hayden Russell, inside threat Kevin Sorensen and a host a long-range shooters who have helped the Blue Devils twice set single-game school scoring records this fall.
Grant Dickerson has been studly on defense and Brandon Strong paces a brace of bombardiers who’ve had opponents reeling.
The main focus during DHS’ 10-day holiday break has been on tightening its transition defense.
Coach: Dan Gonzalez. Last year: 14-12. MaxPreps Sac-Joaquin Section rank: 16.
Elk Grove (10-6) — Veteran coach Rudy Ortega returns after a year off and has three outstanding guards — Danny Goldman, Connor Sutton and Hasani Reese — to keep the ball moving.
The Thundering Herd took the Jaime Angley consolation title in Redding last month by beating Center Valley, 53-39. In that game, Goldman hit for 21 points while dishing out eight assists.
Sophomore forward Obi Ikem needs seasoning but, at 6-1, is the tallest Elk Grove player.
Coach: Rudy Ortega. Last year: 12-12 (vs. Davis: L 79-70; W 86-84. MaxPreps SJS rank: 34.
Franklin (6-8) — Gone to graduation are all-leaguers Theo Johnson and Kelton Newman, along with Darin Johnson (transferred to Sheldon).
Senior captain Victor Rustin returns at forward and John Moscoso is emerging at point guard, but the Wildcats are back to the drawing board through 13 games.
There’s good news here for Blue Devil fans — and a caution …
Good news: DHS handled Franklin, 87-79, on Dec. 1 in the Bronco Roundup at Bella Vista. The caution: The ’Cats haven’t lost to a team with a losing record.
Coach: Jesse Formaker. Last year: 22-6 (vs. Davis: W 98-79; W 79-69). MaxPreps SJS rank: 51.
Grant (10-5) — A consolation title at the St. Hope Invitational and a final-game loss to El Cerrito in the hotly contested McDonald’s Classic in Merced hinted at the Pacers’ mettle. A 63-60 setback to powerful Oakland Tech put an exclamation point on the school’s rough pre-league slate.
The five teams to which Grant lost sport a collective .667 win percentage.
Tri-captains Malek Mitchem, Malek Wren and Brandon Nunn have helped the school return to power.
Grant and DHS have a common opponent in Natomas (0-11). GHS hammered the Nighthawks, 61-17, while the Devils set a short-lived scoring mark in beating Natomas, 108-69.
Coach: Deonard Wilson. Last year: 12-15 (vs. Davis: W 109-101; L 94-81). MaxPreps SJS rank: 9.
Laguna Creek (9-6) — Having won four straight — including a Whitney Tournament crown — The Creek has been leaning on Pope and his 20 ppg.
Mix in guard Erion Wilder (six assists a night) and 6-3 junior forward Cecil Williams II (12 ppg) and this is a much different deck of Cards.
There is no news yet regarding a passel of transfers who became eligible this month. Those three players — from Arizona, South Carolina and Los Angeles — will have to melt into the fragile chemistry that is high school basketball.
If the Cardinals don’t have enough weapons, guard Gabriel Pithon also transferred in from Elk Grove.
Coach: Paul Casey. Last year: 11-15 (vs. Davis: L 93-82; L 104-66. MaxPreps SJS rank: 33.
Monterey Trail (8-7) — Rebounding has been a problem and suddenly the Mustangs find themselves on a four-game losing streak.
A watershed victory for The Trail, however, came in the Jack Scott Memorial Invitational last month. The Mustangs topped Jesuit, 64-56, and guard Gabe Tavora was named tourney MVP.
In that win, forward Sanam Jhajj scored 20 points and Leondre Lintz validation his position as one of the DVC’s top point guards.
But with a roster topping out at 6-3 (Romello Gray) and considered not very quick up and down the court, Monterey Trail could be one of the teams dismissed early from conference class.
Coach: Ken Manfredi. Last year: 6-21 (vs. Davis: W 64-61; L 69-68). MaxPreps SJS rank: 82.
It all begins on Wednesday with Davis at Elk Grove, Monterey Trail at Grant and Franklin hosting Laguna Creek.
So who wins this wild conference? Go ask Alice. We think she’ll know …
— Reach Bruce Gallaudet at [email protected] or 530-747-8047.