Wildcats shake off loss for third at Madsen tourney

Dealing with the preseason grind
By: Jim Linsdau, Sports Editor
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For a brief and unique period last week, Rocklin and Whitney ranked No. 1-2 in California Division II boys basketball. It was brief, as the Wildcats dropped to No. 4 after a loss last week, but it still was unique.

“I think it’s pretty neat to have the two schools in one town be ranked so high,” Whitney head coach Nick French said.  “I think that’s kind of cool. I think it’s a credit to Coach Taylor and his team and it’s a credit to our kids.

“Until we blew it the other day,” French said with a laugh.

French was referring to the team’s loss to San Leandro in the Mark Madsen Invitational Tournament in San Ramon Valley. The loss did drop the club to fourth, but what French was most interested in was the strength of schedule.

Of the top four teams, the Wildcats’ strength of schedule was the highest. In fact, Moreau Catholic of Hayward was the only team with a higher strength of schedule and they were ranked eighth with a 4-2 record.

“If that was the same way at the end of the season, I would be really happy,” French said, again with a laugh. “But it’s Dec. 17.”

The San Leandro loss was only the second this season for Whitney; the first was a two-point loss to Clovis West. Clovis West is ranked No. 11 among all California high school teams.

But French said Whitney basketball has a long way to go to catch up to the traditions of many of the higher ranked schools. He said the ‘Cats deserve recognition for winning a section championship, but many of the older schools have that and considerably more.

“I’m not going to lie, I feel like we should deserve a little bit more, maybe, credit,” French said. “But also at the end of the day too, it’s a great thing to instill that chip on kid’s shoulders.”

French said when his players feel they are not getting the respect they deserve they want to fight for it even more. He said that was necessary because schools like Whitney do not attract the four-star and five-star athletes.  

However, French, now in his fifth year with the program, said the Wildcats have earned enough recognition to get invited to some pretty cool tournaments. The day after Christmas the team will depart for Rancho Mirage and the Maxpreps Holiday Tournament.

Before then, the ‘Cats will participate in the Mike “Tako” Takayama at Del Oro this week.

Now in the Sierra Foothill League, French said his preseason schedule has gone from 12 games to 18. Although that helps to prepare for perhaps the toughest league in the area, French said there is also the fear of the grind getting to be too much.

However, he said the varsity trips to Palm Springs, the Bay Area and Chico helps get the younger JV and freshmen players excited about the program; but he added there is an even bigger reason for it.

“The reason why we do it, honestly, because the kids grow as a team. They get closer because they’re on the road together; they’re staying in hotel rooms together and hanging out together,” said French. “And you can get to see kids become a family; that to me is the coolest part.”