Submitted by Denair High School:
A lot has gone right for the Denair High boys basketball team so far this season.
The Coyotes are off to a 10-1 start that includes three victories over the weekend that earned them the championship of their own 21st annual Denair Holiday Classic Tournament for the first time in at least a decade.
They are getting balanced scoring, rebounding and aggressive defense from a deep and talented roster that will add another big man just in time for the Southern League season to begin in two weeks.
They’ve not only survived a grueling early season schedule that required them to play 11 games in 18 days, they’ve thrived.
“We’re playing terrific,” said Coach R.J. Henderson. “There’s trust on the court. … Guys were passing up contested shots for open looks for their teammates. I’m extremely pleased.”
Denair’s depth and willingness to share the ball were apparent in its three tournament victories. There was a different leading score every game and contributions from players up and down the bench.
In Thursday’s 66-61 win over Big Valley Christian, Hayden Feldman led the way with 23 points. Jordan Smith-Sires added 15 points and Jack Henderson chipped in 11. Mario Plasencia led the defense with 12 rebounds and three blocked shots.
Friday, Denair’s balanced attack was too much for Turlock Christian as the Coyotes won 69-52. Elvis Silva and Cooper Feldman led the way with 10 points each. Four other players scored nine points and Plasencia grabbed 10 rebounds.
Saturday against Escalon, the Coyotes won 71-48 behind 21 points from Austin Upfold, 15 from Henderson, 14 points and 11 rebounds from Jordan Smith-Sires, and 13 points from Feldman.
Smith-Sires was chosen the tournament’s MVP, and Feldman and Upfold made the all-tournament team, but any number of their teammates also could have been recognized.
“We had six deserving guys for three spots,” Henderson said.
After six wins in a row, the Coyotes enjoyed a well-earned rest on Monday and Tuesday. They’ll return to practice Wednesday to prepare for Friday’s game at Hughson. After that, there is only a Dec. 30 contest at Pacheco of Los Banos before the league schedule begins Jan. 2 with a home game against Orestimba.
At this point, Denair clearly is the class of the seven-team Southern League. At 10-1, the Coyotes are the only school with a winning record in the preseason. Defending champion Mariposa is 4-5 and no other SL team has more than two victories.
“The league is as down as I’ve ever seen it,” said Henderson, in his eighth season at Denair.
The league season also will mark the debut of Denair’s biggest player, Jacob Kuharski, a 6-5, 235-pound center who transferred from Pitman High in Turlock over the summer. CIF rules required Kuharski to sit out the first semester.
Henderson said Denair – which has made the Sac-Joaquin Section Division V playoffs the past two seasons – has high ambitions this season, including earning a top four seed that would allow the Coyotes to have home-court advantage in the first two rounds. “We have to build our playoff resume,” he said. “It’s important that we don’t look past anyone in league. If we can avoid that, we’ll be in good shape when they start picking the brackets.”