Benefield: Healdsburg boys basketball looking to make a statement

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HEALDSBURG — The practice wasn’t 10 minutes old and a player was on the floor. He rolled from his back to his stomach and held his face, clearly in pain.

He was helped off the court and the drill continued. When he emerged from the locker room, both nostrils were stuffed with nosebleed plugs.



Welcome to the Healdsburg High boys basketball program, where the ’Hounds are young, tall and talented. And to that list of attributes, with a little blood spilled on the floor, you can now add tough.

They certainly talk tough. And why shouldn’t they? The ’Hounds can clearly make a case for being one of the best teams in Sonoma County and yet here they are, playing in the North Bay League-Redwood Division, the lesser of the two divisions in the new NBL configuration.

Don’t think for a second the ’Hounds didn’t notice the perceived slight.

“We think we should be in the higher” division, said last year’s Sonoma County League MVP, senior Trey Chapman. “It gives us a chip on our shoulders. We think we could win that league too.”

Chapman is a do-everything guy on a team that has a number of do-everything guys. At 6-feet-8, he scores almost 21 points per game and grabs more than 13 rebounds. Paired with Dylan Hayman, a first-team all-Sonoma County League pick as a freshman last season, the ’Hounds start to look lethal.

Hayman is 6-4 and can shoot the lights out. He averages 14.6 points per game and more than seven rebounds from the wing. He leads the team in assists with four per game.

“He’s really, really good around the rim,” third-year coach Yasha Mokaram said. “He really just does it all. He just has a knack for putting the ball in the hoop.”

Just ask Piner, the team on the receiving end of a last-second shot from Hayman’s hands that gave the ’Hounds their 41-40 win over the Prospectors in a highly anticipated showdown on Dec. 15.

Add to the mix Graham Macdonald, a 6-7 freshman, outside shooter junior Dewey Widick and point guard and lock-down defender Xzavier Vasquez and the ’Hounds bring to the table a daunting lineup. Which is why getting slotted in the Redwood Division burns a little.

So if we are keeping track, the ’Hounds are at once tall, talented, young, tough and now scorned. Watch out.

This group is 11-3 overall and 1-0 in league. And their wins? Not soft. They beat Cardinal Newman 56-49 on Dec. 13, beat Piner 41-40 two days later, and beat last year’s NBL champs, Windsor, 48-30 on Dec. 28.

And what makes that Windsor game interesting is this — it was the Jaguars who gave the ’Hounds one of their three losses this season, beating Healdsburg in their home gym 68-65 in the season opener.

But to hear some of the players tell it, the loss, that opening-game slap in the face, might have been the best thing that could have happened to the ’Hounds.

“It showed that we had to be focused in every game and focus on every aspect of every game,” Hayman said.

The team’s defense was, well, soft, players said.

“We allowed 65 points, which is a lot in 32 minutes,” Hayman said.

The team doubled down after that.

“I think there are some upsides to losing that game,” he said. “It kicked us into shape.”

Especially on defense.

“We talked about how we had a guy on the team last year, Carl Hubbell, and talked about how every play on defense he would bring intensity and how we needed to do that more,” Chapman said. “We learned we needed to play together.”

I’m not sure what Hubbell, who was a senior last year, is doing these days, but his defensive spirit is apparently now guiding the ’Hounds. Since the season-opening loss, Healdsburg had held opponents to an average of 37 points per game until Menlo-Atherton put up 55 points on in the ’Hounds’ 60-55 loss Dec. 29.

And when Healdsburg met Windsor again, this time in the Jags’ gym on Dec. 28 in the Holiday Shootout? Healdsburg allowed the Jags just 30 points, beating them 48-30.

“We brought it this time,” Chapman said.

Hayman called it returning the favor.

That’s the edge the ’Hounds are bringing into this season. Even when they lose, there is something to be learned from it. Like this: The ’Hounds lost to Fortuna 49-44 back on Dec. 1. That same talented Fortuna team beat a mighty Montgomery squad 69-49 on Dec. 6 and beat Piner 74-62 on Dec. 8.

And Fortuna was handed its only loss of the season when Menlo-Atherton trounced the Huskies 73-52 on Dec. 28. And Menlo-Atherton only squeaked by Healdsburg the next night, winning by just five points, 60-55.

But all of these A beat B and B beat C so A must be better than C scenarios can get dizzying, especially this season. The NBL-Oak is shaping up to be a whirligig of upsets and lead changes.

The NBL-Redwood? Probably not. The ’Hounds beat the 3-13 Maria Carrillo Pumas 61-36 in the league opener Dec. 21. They face Ukiah (6-9 overall, 0-1 in NBL) Thursday night and Rancho Cotate on Tuesday. The Cougars are 5-11 overall and 1-0 in league heading into Thursday night’s contest with Elsie Allen (2-11, 1-0).

But while the players may feel slighted, Mokaram isn’t having it.

“The message to the kids, like it always is even if we were playing in the Oak, is that it doesn’t matter who the opponent is, it’s all about us playing our own game,” he said.

“Obviously we want to play against the best teams in the county,” he said. “I’m not overconfident about playing in the Redwood Division.”

Coach puts up numbers on the white board before games. Each is a goal he wants his guys to achieve: number of rebounds, number of allowed points — the gamut. Each night is about getting the most out of who he’s got.

At practice, most things are a competition — guys hit the deck at regular intervals, there is running for groups that come up short. And there is, on this day, blood.

But Mokaram hopes the takeaway is this: “Let’s just be the best version of ourselves.”

And that, to every other team in Sonoma County and, in fact, to every team in the North Coast Section Division 4 bracket, has to be a chilling sentiment indeed.

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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