Benefield: Local basketball coaches await two-sport players' availability

Santa Rosa High basketball coach Madison Lott was a little more than 30 seconds away from starting his season with a full roster Friday night.

But when senior quarterback Trevor Anderson hit Roman Correa on a 15-yard touchdown pass with 36 seconds to go in Santa Rosa’s must-win football game against previously unbeaten Piner High on Friday night, the Panthers did a number of things: They won the game, they won the North Bay League-Redwood Division title and, in doing so, they earned an automatic berth into the North Coast Section Division 3 playoffs.

And perhaps most crucially to Lott, they extended their season, meaning he won’t get his hands on a couple of key components of his lineup for at least another week.

It’s a hurdle that winter - and to some extent spring - coaches face every year: Playoffs from one season running into the beginning of the next so that many teams don’t really get going until, in some cases, weeks into the season.

But Lott and other area coaches in the same boat aren’t complaining. Really.

“I’m so happy for those guys right now,” he said.

Still, he’s currently without both his starting point guard and captain, senior Isidro Garcia, and starting center, quarterback Anderson.

In the long run, Lott says being part of a winning football program will translate positively onto the basketball court, or more specifically, the locker room.

“Those guys are learning how to win on the football side. That will be beneficial to our locker room when they come in,” he said. “I was super happy for those guys Friday night. I think that was the best thing that could have happened to our athletic program.”

A coach on the flip side of that crucial play, Piner basketball head coach Mike Erickson agreed. The veteran hoops coach insists he’s thrilled a huge chunk of his team is otherwise engaged right now, including seniors Adrian Torres, Jake Herman and Adonis Gutierrez and junior Isaac Torres.

But considering the slew of athletes he can’t get into the gym just yet, does he truly want to see the football team keep winning?

“Absolutely,” he said. “They are really good kids, I’m really fond of them all. Even though you won’t have them for least two weeks or three weeks or more than that, it’s an opportunity for them.”

For some programs, this is old hat.

“This is an every-year thing for us,” said Tom Bonfigli, longtime boys basketball coach at Cardinal Newman. Almost like clockwork, the Newman football team seems to play into December every season, meaning Bonfigli’s squad can sometimes go nearly the whole of the preseason without substantial pieces of his puzzle.

“In our case, we are missing major components of our team,” he said, namely senior Giancarlo Woods and juniors Tsion Nunnally, Nick Kelly and Ethan Kelly, who are still competing on the football field.

And even when they do arrive, there is a fitness issue. Sure, they have just come off a full football season, but ask any hoops coach around and they will tell you there is a very real difference between football fitness and basketball fitness. They are different animals.

“It’s nothing against football,” said Lott, a former football coach at Elsie Allen High. “But football is stop and go … we’ll gradually get them up to speed.”

Erickson concurred.

“Football fit and basketball fit are a different fit,” he said. “They are in pretty good shape, no doubt. It’s not going to take long.”

On the plus side, Bonfigli said he uses these days and weeks without his full complement of athletes to give other players experience and minutes that he hopes will bear fruit deeper into the season.

“You will develop other players. In the long run, it makes your team better,” he said.

But there are most certainly drawbacks.

“Football players bring a toughness to your team, a physicality to your team that you don’t normally get with normal, one-sport basketball players,” he said. “We play really good man-to-man defense and those kinds of kids are ideal in our kind of program.”

Sure, there is the potential for a chemistry disruption when a whole contingent of football players joins the basketball squad, but there is also an unmistakable infusion of muscle.

“Last season, when I got my football players we were 8-5,” Bonfigli said. “Then we won our next 14 games in a row. We lost five games before I had all my players.”

And those early losses can hurt. Come mid-February when North Coast Section tournament seeds are doled out, those win-loss columns are exceedingly important.

“Down the line, it can really affect your section standings,” Bonfigli said. “They don’t take that into consideration.”

Even with all of those considerations in the mix, Bonfigli, like Erickson and Lott, says the benefits of having players coming off a successful football season is immeasurable in most cases.

“The real positive thing, I think, is No. 1, our kids out for football, they are winning, they are coached by a great person in Paul Cronin, they understand excellence, they are in a right frame of mind,” he said. “They are winners.”

You can reach staff columnist Kerry Benefield at 707-526-8671 or, on Twitter @benefield and on Instagram at kerry.benefield. Podcasting on iTunes and SoundCloud, “Overtime with Kerry Benefield.”

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