Vincent Olmo has the body of an offensive lineman, but the 6-foot-9, 275-pound junior doesn’t do battle on the line of scrimmage.
"The biggest kid on the floor is not a football player,” Ripon coach Rod Wright said with a sly grin. He’s a basketball player, through and through, and his large frame represents a tall ceiling for a young program.
Ripon competes with just five seniors, two of which saw regular minutes during a run to the Holiday Hoop Classic consolation championship on Saturday afternoon.
The Indians overcame a fourth-quarter deficit to Freedom, finishing a 61-58 victory with a barrage of 3-pointers. All-Tournament selection Kyle Sisk buried a 3 from the wing and Adam Wood stepped into two treys, including the go-ahead bucket with 1:14 left.
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“Wood has become our 3-point shooter and he works hard, so we let him shoot the 3,” Wright said. “What’s good is that we’re starting to understand our roles.”
With little experience returning from last year’s Trans-Valley League championship team, coaches Wright and Justin Graham are building around juniors Baz Cheema, Wood and Olmo, and sophomores Danny Hernandez and Troy Brogan, the son of former Modesto Junior College coach Paul Brogan.
Sisk and fellow senior James Gaalswyk give direction and purpose to a team that turned heads at Modesto Christian’s talent-rich holiday tournament. Ripon entered the tournament one game below .500, but now launches into league with the confidence of a three-game winning streak.
Wright had hoped to see some progress from his team over the course of four days, but he could have never predicted this. Ripon has the second-most appearances (14) in the history of the Holiday Hoop Classic, trailing only tournament host Modesto Christian (18), but it hadn’t won three games since 2004.
“Every game we’ve been taking baby steps,” Wright said. "Our sophomores are maturing into their roles and we’ve had many different lineups. We’ve been trying to figure out who should play where and when and how the rotation should go.
“We still make a lot of young mistakes, but down the stretch, we were executing the play that was called and we made a few big 3-pointers. Kyle Sisk had the tournament of his life and we hope that carries through.”
The Indians opened with a not-so-surprising 81-43 loss to host Modesto Christian, which was beaten by San Joaquin Memorial in Saturday’s championship. Ripon rebounded, winning its two games to reach the consolation final for the first time.
The Indians began their run with a 53-46 victory over Manteca, a former CIF State Division III champion and the reigning Valley Oak League king. Ripon outscored the Buffaloes 36-23 in the second half. Olmo netted a game-high 19 and was one of four players to can a 3-pointer in the third quarter, showcasing a rare skill for a big-bodied center.
Olmo had just six points in Ripon’s 74-63 victory over Buchanan on Friday.
He didn’t have to do much, though, not with Sisk and Brogan controlling the tempo from the perimeter. Sisk scored 29, dominating the first and fourth quarters. Brogan netted 17 on six field goals, while Wood drained two 3-pointers in a 24-point third.
“We’ve never played in a consolation championship game before,” Wright said. “We’ve always been the 9 or 10 o’clock game. We’ve been 2-2 a lot of times, or 1-3 and 0-4."
The Indians chased program history last year, winning the TVL before embarking on a deep postseason run. Ripon reached the semifinal round of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV playoffs and won a game in the CIF State regional tournament. The backbone of that 25-win team was an all-senior backcourt: Aaron Paschini, Cole Stevens and Noah Hernandez.
The Big Three's graduation hinted at a major rebuild ahead, but the Indians’ performance at the Holiday Hoop Classic suggests the reigning TVL champions aren’t ready to concede the crown.
“We all came into the tournament wondering what could we be and where would we finish,” Wright said. “Here we are. We had three close games and at the end of each one, we executed and finished. That was the best part."
Wright isn’t ready to address his team’s potential. He’s concerned only about taking baby steps.
“Right now, we’re playing really well. I don’t want to jinx us,” he said. "We’re taking baby steps and getting better as we go. The potential is always there. I’ve had a lot of teams that had potential but it never got realized. We’re just taking this thing slowly.”
Ripon travels to Patterson Wednesday before opening the TVL season at home against rival Escalon.