Keith Hunter can't simulate it.
And his team can't fake it.
When it comes to playoff experience -- a commodity treasured like gold at this juncture of the season -- the Golden Valley boys basketball team's got little to speak of.
With John Sykes and Alex Fletcher now playing in the California community college system, Golden Valley has recreated itself the yeomen's way.
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It grew its talent, speeding up the learning curve for first-year varsity players like sophomore Rob Martinez and junior Trek Fayerweather.
It also leaned on unheralded returners.
Safe to say, Golden Valley isn't that 3-throwing, free-flowing, fly-through-the-rafters basketball team that stormed all the way to the Sac-Joaquin Section Division I semifinals last season.
This year's bunch is barely a playoff team, sneaking into the field with a pair of dominating performances in the final week of the Central California Conference regular season.
"We fought for this playoff spot," said Martinez, one of two sophomores on the roster. "It wasn't easy. It was hard."
In contrarian, karmic fashion, No. 14 Golden Valley draws one of the division's most experienced teams -- No. 3 Sacramento Burbank -- in its Division I playoff opener on Friday night.
Led by coach Lindsey Ferrell, Burbank has clinched playoff appearances in each of his three seasons at the helm. In 2008-09, Burbank reached the second round at the University of the Pacific, where it eventually lost to Merced.
Burbank has nine players on its roster that return -- and all nine contributed in some fashion to the team's playoff run a season ago: captain CJ Munoz, forward Vick West Jr., forward Gabriel Barnes, point guard Murray Kameron, wing Darien Wilkins, point guard Jeff Davis, forward Paul Smith-Profit, forward Marquis Golden and forward Ken Holloway.
A 10th opted not to play.
Terrance Mitchell was the team's leading scorer in '08-09, but chose to forgo his senior season after accepting a football scholarship to Oregon.
Burbank hasn't needed him.
Davis is the team's spark plug, averaging 11.3 points per game and four assists. West anchors a balanced frontcourt with 13.8 points and 10 rebounds. Ken Holloway leads the team with 34 3-pointers.
In many respects, Burbank resembles the team Golden Valley had disassembled by graduation last winter.
"It's tremendously valuable when you have guys driven to achieve. We had a great example of that last year -- six or seven strong, seniors, everyone playing for the same goal," Hunter said.
Golden Valley returns just five players, but only center Garrett Hill was an everyday starter.
Justin Wootten and Richard Thomas were reserve shooters, while guards Larry Moore and Rob McCune also saw limited minutes.
Martinez was called up for the playoffs but only played in the final minutes of GV's semifinal loss at Arco Arena.
"Being there and seeing it, most of them fit into that category. As far as playing, it's all new for us," Hunter said.
"We're counting on those three guys (Hill, Thomas and Wootten) to compete and perform for us. Last year, if they performed it was a bonus. It's totally different now."
GV's strength is its indomitable spirit; its ability to keep swinging.
Golden Valley has been in playoff mode since Jan. 29 -- the start of the second half in conference. It was then that Hunter said GV could not afford to finish .500 in CCC play.
It promptly cut its turnovers from 24 to 13 per game, began shooting better and went 4-2 in the final six games.
"It was really demanding," Hill said of the final weeks of the season. "But we were up to the challenege. We gave coach Hunter everything we had, and he gave us everything he had. Now, we're going to give more."
In order to survive Friday's opener, Golden Valley will need to play with that same urgency, efficiency and fight. It can't afford to get wide-eyed.
"It's an advantage as long as we're not just happy getting there. You know what I mean? If you set a goal to just get there, it's not an advantage," Hunter said. "Where we've really grown is in our focus and intensity, understanding what we're doing. If we go in like little kids at an amusement park -- 'Oh, look at us, we made it' -- it's not an advantage.
"It's a great advantage that we've been playing win-or-lose just to get to the next game. Hopefully we can continue to grow."
Playoff experience might be in short supply, but Golden Valley isn't lacking in confidence.
"We don't have anything to lose. We're an underdog here," Hill said.
"I'm not concerned at all. I'm confident. I know we have the shooters. We have Trek, who can get to the hole whenever he wants. We have AJ (Hernandez) now -- he's phenomenal. We have everything that we need."
James Burns is managing editor/sports editor of the Sun-Star. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.