Even if you haven’t gone to a Beyer High School boys basketball game this season, there’s a good chance you’ve seen them in action.
If you’ve attended a big game elsewhere in the area, whether at Modesto Junior College, Modesto Christian or Cal State Stanislaus, there’s a likelihood the Patriots have been there.
Ever run into a polite and well-groomed group of 16- to 18-year-olds in a local diner? It could have been Beyer.
“We get along really well on and off the court,” junior guard George Dancer said. “We have team dinners about every other night. It’s a lot of fun. We see a lot of basketball together. We watch other teams play, and key on their good players.”
And there’s your clue as to why the Patriots – for years one of the downtrodden programs in the Modesto Metro Conference – have soared this season to a 23-4 record and a No. 5 seed in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division II playoffs.
Beyer isn’t just a group that chooses to get along well during the season. It’s become one in an increasing number of area programs that chooses to have basketball activities year-round, or at least as much as the rules allow.
“We take a lot of pride in playing 11 months out of the year,” said coach Kyle McKim, the school’s former junior varsity coach who took over the program last fall when coach Brandon Hellstrom moved to Oregon. “We do have to take a month off during the dead period.
“That’s the difference between now and where we were in the past. We have kids who want to play year-round. They want to see how good they can get, and it’s my job to help them out and get them as far as they can go. It’s fun for me because it makes us better as a team, and I think I owe them that.”
The Patriots are home tonight to face Burbank (15-12) of Sacramento as one of 16 Stanislaus District boys teams still alive in the playoffs. All 16 play tonight except for Ripon Christian, which – as the top seed in Division V – gets a first-round bye and opens Friday.
Beyer certainly has come a long way in six years. From 2009-11, Hellstrom’s first two seasons at the helm, the Patriots went 2-51. They won seven games in 2011-12, 13 games the next season, then broke through for a 16-12 record last season, falling at Bear River in a play-in game.
But even in the lean years, the seeds of change in the program were being planted. It started with a higher level of commitment being expected from the players, and from the coaches themselves. It also helped that McKim’s JV teams went 67-10 over the last three seasons.
“Freshman year we weren’t that good,” senior guard Jake Polack said. “We had guys with attitude – guys who didn’t buy into the program. Our group coming up bought in and wanted to win, and it’s all about winning.”
It also is about having fun. Last week, after the playoff seeds were announced, a team member hijacked one of the coaches’ computers and invaded his MaxPreps account to change Polack’s personal data from the already extremely generous 5 feet 11 inches and 160 pounds to 7-1, 235.
“The players are very close,” McKim said. “The basketball stuff is one thing, but if you bond as a team off the court you’ll become closer and you’ll end up playing better on the court.”
Three of Beyer’s four losses came at the hands of league champions. It fell 64-56 to Central California Conference champ Turlock on Dec. 13 in the final of the Godinez Tournament and dropped two MMC games to Modesto Christian, the No. 2 seed in Division II. Its other loss came against Enochs, a win that boosted the Eagles into last Friday’s play-in round.
“No one expected us to become as good as we’ve become, but we’re going at this 11 months out of the year,” Dancer said. “Everything about playing Beyer basketball is high-maintenance. You have to perform at your best on the court and in school. The players here invite you in like you’re already family, and it helps that we have a coach that respects you as soon as you walk through the door.”
So there you are. Beyer has established a blueprint for winning at a public school, and it starts with asking for, and getting, a year-round commitment from the athletes.
“It speaks volumes about the kind of kids we have,” McKim said. “We now have kids who are committed to being great, and that’s all it really took for this program to rise. Being the 5 seed is a big deal and we’re excited about it, but we still need to perform. We can’t get caught up too much in the number, but it’s a nice honor.”
Sac-Joaquin Section Boys Basketball Playoffs
Tonight’s Games (all games 7 p.m.)
Division I - No. 15 Turlock at No. 2 Sheldon
Division II - No. 15 Ponderosa at No. 2 Modesto Christian; No. 12 Burbank at No. 5 Beyer
Division III - No. 14 Fairfield at No. 3 Sierra; No. 12 Lincoln at No. 5 Manteca; No. 9 Weston Ranch at No. 8 Central Valley; No. 16 Patterson at No. 1 Christian Brothers; No. 18 Ceres at No. 2 Vanden.
Division IV - No. 12 Mesa Verde at No. 5 Calaveras; No. 9 Union Mine at No. 8 Sonora; No. 10 Natomas at No. 7 Central Catholic; No. 11 Summerville at No. 6 West Campus; No. 13 Ripon at No. 4 Marysville
Division V - No. 1 Ripon Christian, bye; No. 14 Hughes Academy at No. 3 Mariposa; No. 12 Le Grand at No. 5 Argonaut
Division VI - No. 5 Victory Christian at No. 4 Turlock Christian