The month of December can be a rough one for boys basketball teams at schools with powerhouse football programs.
Typically what transpires is this: As the football season stretches into December, basketball coaches at these schools are forced to wait for their full complement of players until the last football game has been played.
This becomes a detriment to matters of chemistry and rotations, and usually results in a few unsavory scores. Manteca High basketball coach Brett Lewis know the predicament all too well.
Lewis has helped turned the Buffaloes into one of the top public-school hoops programs in the southern half of the Sac-Joaquin Section, yet his program has been hampered by the football team's success at the section and state levels.
Manteca has won back-to-back section titles in football, and each season has been extended by the CIF's new state playoff format. Section winners are guaranteed a Northern California regional bowl, which means basketball coaches, like Lewis, must wait even longer for their talent.
"It's so hard. Take this year for example. We played Gregori, Beyer, and Lincoln without our football guys; without our top-three scorers," Lewis said of Gino Campiotti, Jorge Cedano and Matt Ender. "We weren't even close in those games. ... Not only are we shorthanded, but those are teams without a whole lot of football players on them, so we didn't even have a fair shot at winning those games."
It led to slow starts for Lewis' Buffaloes another section title contender.
Manteca lost five of its first six games, including the first four, and sneaked into the D-III playoffs at 12-15. Across the bracket, No. 5 Patterson suffered four of its six losses in the month of December as basketball coach Jason McCleery waited for football to end.
The Tigers (22-6) travel to top-seeded Central Catholic (26-2) for Wednesday's semifinal.
The Patterson football team won the Western Athletic Conference and reached the semifinal round of the D-III playoffs, losing a shootout to eventual runnerup and VOL champion Oakdale.
Four of McCleery's regulars, including reigning WAC co-MVP Joe Okitukunda, played starring roles for the football team. The others are Gabe Sanchez (quarterback), James Perez (wide receiver) and Kendrick Bond (wide receiver).
"December was kind of a feeling out process," McCleery said. "Once league got going, we hit our stride and got our rotations figured out. We haven't lost since (Jan. 6)."
Yes, the pains of December often give way to the joys of February, when that football experience produces basketball success.
"Once we got that football players back from their playoff run and we had a few weeks playing together, my assistant and I thought we could do pretty well," McCleery said. "They're all great athletes ... and the experience definitely helps. They've been through all the big games, so we can call upon those football players to share that experience."
Patterson has thrived in the clutch, too, sneaking past Benicia and Del Campo in the first two rounds. Football, McCleery says, has given his basketball team a mental edge.
"The team has shown poise down the stretch," McCleery said. "The moment was never too big for them. They expected to do well."
There are other basketball teams still in the playoff hunt benefiting from players with football pedigrees.
Beyer depends on the energy and grit of seniors Ben Polack and Brandon Gray, while Central Catholic features D'angelo Bellamy, Jimmy Mootz, Justin Traina, Sithri Price and Dayton Magana, all members of the school's Division II semifinalist football team. Leading scorer Joshua Hamilton, now a senior, started in the Raiders' secondary as a junior but did not play in the fall.
The Patriots (19-10) host Rio Americano Wednesday.
Ripon Christian (18-9) will play Sacramento Adventist in the Division VII final on Friday. The Knights' top player is 6-foot-7 senior Andrew Vander Weide, who played a pivotal role in the football team's section final appearance in the fall.
Lewis says basketball coaches at football schools must views the basketball season through a long lens. In the end, he believes those basketball coaches are often rewarded for their patience and commitment to a plan.
"The guys that are football players, you know they've played meaningful minutes. They're winners and they're competitors," said Lewis, whose team was knocked out of the playoffs by Beyer. "You do get a lot of stuff out of it, but imagine if a kids like Gino Campiotti spent another month and half in hoop? I think he would have been a much better basketball player. They miss out on a lot of stuff."