A 25-2 regular-season record didn’t earn the Denair boys basketball team as much respect as some might think. Will that add some fuel to the Coyotes’ fire when the playoffs begin this week? Possibly.
Still, when they gathered Saturday afternoon to watch together as the Sac-Joaquin Section Division V bracket was revealed, the Coyotes came away partially satisfied. They were awarded a No. 3 seed in the 13-team tournament – and importantly – a first-round bye as well as home game in the second round.
Compare that with the past two seasons, when Denair was the No. 11 seed both years and had to go on the road. It lost in the first round in 2018 but managed to win one game last year before being eliminated.
Expectations are much higher this season after the Coyotes marched through the Southern League unscathed, winning all 12 games. Their only losses were 56-38 to Riverbank on Dec. 6 and 76-72 in Natomas on Jan. 20. Riverbank finished 15-12 overall and sneaked into the Division IV playoffs as the 17th seed; Natomas (12-14) missed the playoffs entirely.
The relative weakness of the Southern League as well as losses to two schools that didn’t finish as strong as they would have hoped worked against Denair when it came time to seed the Division V bracket.
Brookside Christian (20-8) – which won the tougher Central California Athletic Association – was seeded first. Bradshaw Christian (16-12) – the fourth-place team in the rugged Sierra Valley Conference – was seeded second ahead of Denair, setting up a potential playoff rematch between the Pride and Coyotes next Tuesday in Sacramento in the third round. Last year, Denair upset sixth-seeded Bradshaw in the second round.
“Brookside and Bradshaw play tougher non-league schedules than we do and their leagues both are considered by being better than ours,” explained Denair Coach R.J. Henderson.
Ultimately, the outcomes will be decided on the court, regardless of which team is seeded where.
What is certain is that Denair’s first game will be Friday at 7 p.m. at home against the winner of the first-round contest between two Sacramento-area schools – Leroy Greene Academy (11-6) and Buckingham Charter (10-13).
Henderson, his coaching staff and many of his players and their parents plan to attend Wednesday’s game to scout their opponent.
Regardless of which team survives to face Denair, Henderson said he hopes for a big and spirited home crowd on Friday night.
“It would be great to get 1,000 people or more in our gym,” he said.
Denair had a good practice Monday, Henderson said, and the plan was to focus on shooting at Tuesday’s session. The Coyotes will take Wednesday off, then devote Thursday’s practice to working on specific ways to attack either Leroy Greene or Buckingham.
Should the Coyotes advance, the likely third-round opponent is Bradshaw, which faces the winner of Colfax and Woodland Christian on Friday night. Denair eliminated Bradshaw 68-61 in overtime in the second round a year ago. “They returned just about everyone from that team, plus they added a 6-foot-8 center,” Henderson said of Bradshaw. “They would present a test we just don’t see in the Southern League.”