By Dean Schermerhorn
Two high school teams from the Sacramento area are visiting Reno to play in the 2016 Wild West Shootout. One is defending its championship, while the other is playing in the tournament for the first time.
Since 2013, Sacramento’s Jesuit High School has won the Wild West Shootout championship. Coach Jon Rotz described their experience at the tournament last year as “Great. We always have an awesome time, and it’s a great bonding experience for the team.”
The players enjoy staying in the hotel, and the travel and play help build friendships and trust. “It’s a great way to start the season,” Rotz said. Rotz is also Jesuit’s assistant director of admissions and runs a basketball summer camp.
Last year Jesuit had a win-loss record of 25 and 6 overall, and they were 12 and 2 in league play, losing only to Sheldon High School. They made it to the final four in their section and lost to Folsom High School. Jesuit was ranked in the top ten in northern California and was the number two seed in the Norcal playoffs. They lost to Berkeley, who went on to play in the state championship. Jesuit lost by only several points, and “knowing that makes you hungry for the season,” said Rotz.
In the 2015-16 season, Jesuit had five sophomores on the roster. Over the season everyone grew up quickly. They also relied on two senior stars, who each did a great job leading the team.
This year is similar, as Rotz has one senior returning who played a significant amount last
year. “The others are now juniors and are learning the burden of carrying the team on their shoulders,” said Rotz. He describes his current players as a “very high character team.” Even though the team is young, “this group is competitive with each other and with others. They have an intrinsic competitive drive,” Rotz said. They now need to adapt to bigger roles, realize who they truly are, and draw on their competitive core.
Rotz describes Matt Ehrlich, a returning senior, as “the boss of the team and a leader in many ways.” He knows what it is like to play in big games.
Rotz also has four other juniors and one sophomore from last year: Jake Virga; Chris
Simpson; Isaiah Rutherford, who played a lot of minutes as a freshman last year; Darin Similai is 6’7” and was the backup big man last year; and Kobee Byrd, who also plays football. “The key to success this year is how quickly the team can become ingrained in leadership positions,” said Rotz.
The Wild West Shootout brings together teams that have had little opportunity to scout each other. Rotz knows that Jesuit faces Douglas High School first this year, and he expects every game of the three days to be a “dogfight.” Rotz observed that “You go through much discovery over that weekend.”
“This group is a joy to coach,” said Rotz. “They worked hard in the weight room, and with extraordinary results.” He looks forward to seeing how that drive translates on the basketball court. Whatever the outcome, “We love coming up to this great tournament,” said Rotz.
Folsom, Calif., lies east of Sacramento between Highway 50 and Folsom Lake. Folsom High School was founded in 1922. It started with a small campus not far from the prison and with a gym that seated only 500. The school’s new campus, near Highway 50, serves about 2,500 students and opened in 1998. At that time the student body numbered about 1,200.
The Folsom area has grown so much that the number of students has quadrupled in less than 20 years. To meet this need, the community has opened another high school.
Led by Coach Mike Wall, the Folsom High School team plays in the Sierra Foothill league. They are making their first appearance in the Wild West Shootout this year.
Folsom is one of the top two teams in the Sacramento region, with Jesuit High School of the Delta League being the other top-ranked team. Those two leagues are considered the highest ranked leagues in their section. In the 2015-16 season, Folsom tied for first place in the league with Wood Creek High School. For this season, Coach Wall expects another “dogfight” with Wood Creek High School. Wood Creek has one of the best players in the country on their squad, and Folsom has a talented team returning this season, too.
Coach Wall expects Folsom to be ranked in the top five in the Sacramento area. Looking forward to the season, Wall notes that “It will be a challenge; we will be right there.”
Folsom has been ranked number one in its section. Last year they were ranked second in the top division, behind Modesto Christian. Folsom High has played in their section championship three years in a row. They won the Norcal title in 2013, won the section in 2014 and were the section runner-up in 2015.
Coach Wall describes his team as versatile, with good players at each position. The team is well rounded, with the ability to shoot from the perimeter and drive inside. They also are well balanced, with strength on offense and defense. “Shooting the ball is our strong suit,” Wall said.
Standing out on this well rounded team is center Mason Forbes, who can play the inside game as well as the outside. Coach Wall describes him as athletic and quick enough to guard on the perimeter while big enough to guard around the basket. Added to that, he is a good shooter. Wall feels confident that Forbes will play for a Pac 12 school, noting that colleges look on him as a quick and agile perimeter player. The University of Nevada, Reno, and other schools have approached Forbes with scholarship offers.
Folsom has gained two guards who transferred from other schools, Eljay Gallegos, point guard, and Jayce McCain. Both were starters on their former teams. This strength at the guard position “makes us able to knock down shots if the opponent doubles on Mason,” said Wall. “That ability makes us difficult to guard.”
Wall, a native of Susanville, Calif., teaches economics at Folsom High. He came to the school in 2000 and has been varsity coach for 12 years, after taking a few years off in between.
Folsom High School has helped launch the careers of several notable athletes, including Jordan Richards of the New England Patriots; Jake Browning, a quarterback at the University of Washington and a Heisman Trophy candidate; and Alabama starting right tackle, Jonah Williams.
The Wild West Shootout is pleased to welcome these two fine teams to our tournament.