The on-court spectacle is about speed, agility, explosiveness and toughness. Players and teams good enough to reach the top levels of high school competition get there because they play hard, don't back down and get up when they've been decked.
But the personalities on display at game time often are part of the players' -- and coaches' -- toolbox, something donned for competition.
Underlying the competitive veneer, though, lie individual beliefs, backgrounds and motivations. There's plenty of diversity of thought and intellect.
Today, during the final round of the CIF Northern Regional basketball championships, players and coaches will, individually and as part of teams, channel what they are made of into a tightly focused athletic world.
Here's a closer look at some of them:
Reeves Nelson is an elite athlete. Just 16 and a junior at Modesto Christian, he has verbally committed to play for UCLA once he graduates.
The 6-foot-7 forward -- the primary reason his team is playing for the Division IV championship at 7 p.m. at Folsom High School -- was courted by schools throughout the country.
But ask him about the attention, and he politely tells you he just wants to be another face in the crowd.
"I'm not just a ballplayer, and I wouldn't want people to think that," Nelson said.
For starters, Nelson is the compelling sum of some eclectic parts. His bedroom walls attest to it, holding posters of Jesus Christ, Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Elvis Presley and the '70s rock giant Queen.
His iPod includes Christian reggae, oldies and rap, and the literature he enjoys is all over the map.
"He is really protective of just being a regular guy," said his mother, Sheila Nelson, a Modesto Christian employee. "He is, but at the same time, he's not. You learn to wait in line to say hello to him after games because so many people want to take his picture or sign an autograph."
He's cool with attention, though, and takes it in stride. Invited by representatives of LeBron James to attend a Cleveland Cavaliers game against the Sacramento Kings at Arco Arena earlier this season, Nelson instead watched his friends compete in a football playoff game.
His parents urge him to keep priorities straight, and his father, Brian, provides a clear object lesson. Dad was a star quarterback at Modesto High in the 1980s, but he spurned college scholarship offers.
"Fell in love with a girl instead," Nelson said of his dad, who works in Modesto in the insurance industry. "He tells me to really focus on school, and I have."
The result is a 3.6 grade-point average in honors courses -- and a waiting line for interested girls.
"Oh, I get all kinds of offers -- 'Hey, want to hang out?' " Nelson said. "I have to focus on school and this team. It's more important."
When he coached boys teams at Lodi's Tokay High in the 1980s and '90s, Tom Gonsalves' acid tongue could make the locker-room paint peel.
Rampaging along the sideline in trademark Wrangler jeans and cowboy boots, he projected a stereotypical image: a slightly chauvinistic screamer. He didn't like girls basketball, and he certainly didn't like St. Mary's High School, a rival institution down the road.
So what has Gonsalves, 54, been doing since 2001? Coaching girls hoops at St. Mary's and loving his evolution, sans the boots and denim.
"I came here to help coach my daughters a few years ago, and it's turned out to be the greatest experience," Gonsalves said. "And thank God I've matured."
The harmony between Gonsalves and St. Mary's owes as much to the coach's ability to relate to his players as to the full-court defensive schemes he teaches.
He has elevated St. Mary's to prominence, with the 31-0 Rams taking a No. 8 national ranking (USA Today) into today's 6 p.m. Division III championship against another national power, No. 1 Sacred Heart Cathedral of San Francisco, at Arco Arena.
He succeeded at Tokay but found his approach wasn't the best way to get through when coaching girls. So he cooled down, not that he doesn't scowl and fume when a St. Mary's play doesn't work.
"Coach can be intense, but we all love him, and he's the biggest reason the chemistry is so good on this team," Rams sophomore star Chelsea Gray said. "What people don't know about Coach is he can be so funny. But from what I hear about how he used to be, I'm glad he's changed."
Dynamic guard Chase Tapley gets a lot of the attention that comes Sac High's way. He's a star who has earned it.
But the Dragons (29-3) didn't make it to today's noon Division III NorCal title game on his shoulders alone, or without becoming through the course of a season a multifaceted entity that performs like a cohesive unit.
Role players have shared the load with Tapley, putting Sac High in the ring at Arco against Sacred Heart Cathedral just a week after suffering a crushing loss to El Camino in the Sac-Joaquin Section championship game.
Two road victories followed that loss.
"Without the other guys, the support group, we don't make it this far," Tapley said.
When Sacramento became a charter school in 2003, the emphasis was on academics, but basketball emerged as a recognizable face of the school.
A smart face, at that. Of the 14 players on the roster, 10 have GPAs of 3.0 or higher.
Along with being on the same team and sharing academic success, the Dragons understand each other on another level. Many have come from challenging family backgrounds.
"We have each other," said senior Jhonte Simpson. "And it's not just hoops."
Simpson, who is headed to UC Davis to study art and biology, dabbles in portraiture -- not the most jocklike pastime. "I can draw anything as long as I have a piece of paper," he said.
And there's Chris Avenant, a 6-2 reserve from South Africa. He didn't make the team at Del Oro last year but has flourished as a role player for Sac.
"The guys say he's our White Chocolate -- our only white player," coach Derek Swafford said with a laugh.
Swafford knows about making the most of chances. He dropped out of high school only to later regroup and earn master's degrees in counseling and social work, leaving the streets behind.
He knows he has a special group, regardless of today's outcome.
"The kids are very embracing here," Swafford said.