By Ray Hamill — The Warriors have a plan in place. They know they’ll need it. They know the same old formula won’t continue to work when the competition level goes up a notch or five in February.
Especially in a loaded North Coast Section Division-V bracket, which features three of the top four ranked Division-V teams in the state, including No. 1 Stuart Hall, and should be among the most competitive brackets in any section in the state.
For the Warriors, it could very well prove more difficult to win a section title this year than a state title.
But that won’t bother anyone in Hoopa, where the excitement is building and expectations are growing by the game.
Warriors basketball is back.
The Navarro effect
And leading the charge is senior guard George Navarro, who is averaging 31 points a game and is the face of the rejuvenated program, which is fielding its best team in at least five years, and perhaps longer.
Navarro’s points totals are staggering, and statistically put him among the best all-time in Humboldt-Del Norte League history.
But therein lies the problem for Hoopa, and it’s something they’re well aware of, and something head coach Tyler Mitchell, who has done a good job with the team this year, has been preparing for.
Good teams can zone in on one player, and there are plenty of good teams awaiting Hoopa in the playoffs.
“We’ve talked to George,” Mitchell said. “If teams are going to double-team him, he’s got to be able to read the play. Everybody’s got to trust each other.”
It’s beginning to pay off.
On Saturday night, Hoopa avenged a recent loss to Eureka with a dominating 86-64 win at home, and the lessons learned from that earlier loss were evident.
“In the first go-around with Eureka, they were on George and he wasn’t reading them,” Mitchell said. “We talked to him about scanning the floor and trusting his teammates, and it was better this time.”
The Warriors have also gotten healthy recently, with Wade Nixon and Sonny Jarnaghan returning to the lineup, while several other players who were forced to step up in their absence have continued to do so.
Dennis Young has become an integral part of the offense and one of the team’s most consistent performers, while John Smith has stepped up his game recently, providing an inspirational spark off the bench.
“He’s scrappy on defense,” Mitchell said of Smith. “He seems to always be in the right place at the right time.”
Shaun Navarro too has had a big impact in the team’s improvement, and while he may not provide the same offensive threat as his brother George, he has grown into arguably the team’s most effective defensive weapon.
“He’s one of our lock-down defenders,” the head coach said.
A rarity in Division V
They’ll need every one of their players if they are to win the Little 4 and make a serious run in the postseason.
The Division-V field is full of small private schools and Hoopa represents one of the last great public school programs in the bracket.
No. 3 Clear Lake and No. 7 Hoopa are the only public schools currently ranked in the top 11.
More telling, Hoopa’s NCS championships in 1997, 1999 and 2003 are the only times a public school has won a Division-V NCS crown in the past quarter century.
Emery, South Fork and Clear Lake are the only other public schools to ever win the bracket.
The cocky kid of the H-DN
Once again, however, none of that will bother the Warriors, who are kind of like the cocky kid of the Humboldt-Del Norte League.
They expect to be among the NCS elite, taking tremendous pride out of it when they get there, and epitomizing the “us against the world” mindset better than anyone.
With Mitchell at the helm, however, it’s also a team that’s remaining grounded, and a group of players that know they still need to improve.
Just as impressively, it’s also a group that has shown steady improvement, and one that has addressed — and continues to address — its shortcomings.
“I think with our team, we got rid of a lot of the individualism,” Mitchell said. “And we’ve become more of a unit, more of a family. We played our first 20 games on the road and we had a lot of time to mesh.
“Everybody’s bought into the program. It’s a good group of kids that are working hard every day.”