By Ray Hamill — A surprise contender could be emerging in the Little 4 this season.
Certainly, there’s no denying that the Hoopa Valley boys will start conference play as the heavy favorites, but they’re not the only local small school basketball team that has been impressing in the early season.
In Miranda, the South Fork Cubs have been steadily building momentum through the pre-league schedule, and are poised for a breakthrough season and a first winning campaign since 2013.
“They’re a pretty talented group,” head coach Taylor Morrow said.
The Cubs have at least three things in their favor as they get set for next week’s league opener.
One, they’re deeper than any other team in the Little 4. Two, they’re probably more balanced than any of their Little 4 opponents. And three, this is a group of players well used to winning after a stellar 2018 in sports for the school, and that’s something they’ll be hoping to now carry over on to the basketball court.
“We’re pretty small and pretty fast, and we shoot a ton of 3-pointers,” Morrow said. “We’re going to try and push as fast as we can and let it fly from deep.”
That should make the Cubs a fun team to watch, but it doesn’t make them unique in a Little 4 that is guard heavy and quick.
What might separate the Cubs, however, is the depth on the bench and their physicality.
“Like it is every year, I think it will be really competitive,” Morrow said of the conference. “Hoopa seems to be the team to beat, but physically we match up well with everybody in league, which is nice.
“And we definitely are deeper than all the others. We’ll go nine or 10 deep, so that’s a little bit of an advantage. We play a lot of pressure defense, so it helps keeping fresh legs out there all the time.”
Impressive recent run
The early season rankings have the Cubs as the lowest rated Little 4 team in the North Coast Section.
South Fork is ranked No. 120 overall in the NCS, behind Hoopa (66), Ferndale (101) and St. Bernard’s (116).
But those rankings could be a little misleading.
South Fork began the season without a number of players who were still playing football well into December, and struggled to an 0-4 start.
Since then, however, the Cubs have had a full complement of players and have gone 7-3, including a comfortable 10-point win over Little 4 rivals Ferndale at the California School for the Deaf tournament.
All-star athletes C.J. Van Meter and Cody Wyatt, who each played a pivotal role in the school’s impressive 2018 baseball and football seasons, will be expected to lead the charge on the basketball court as well, along with fellow seniors Cooper Scott and Gerardo Lopez.
A pair of juniors — Jayden Paine and Ian Burton — will also see plenty of action, while big things are also expected out of the school’s stellar sophomore class.
“We’re young,” Morrow said. “Half of our team are sophomores.”
Including starting guard Riley Gallagher, who has been impressing this season, but who will have his hands full in league play against some standout guards.
Two other sophomores, Cameron Messenger and Graham McConnell have each also been making an impact.
McConnell is one of the most talented all-around young athletes at the school and is quickly emerging as a threat in every sport.
“Graham is just a really good athlete,” Morrow said. “He brings a lot coming off the bench, and so does Cameron.”
The Cubs play at Mendocino on Monday before opening conference play at St. Bernard’s on Thursday.