Offense leads Zebras into Foothill Valley League

Defense a work in progress
By: Jim Linsdau, Sports Editor
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The Lincoln High boys basketball team departed the Pioneer Valley League last year with a 6-4 record, but 24-8 overall. The Fighting Zebras return some players with good experience, but enter a new conference – the Foothill Valley League.

“I think we’ll be ready. I assume those (FVL) schools will be going through the same challenges as us, ‘What’s Lincoln have; what’s Lincoln do?’” said Zebras head coach Robert Ash. “So I think there’s a learning curve for all of us in the new league because there hasn’t been a lot of crossover with these new teams.”

Ash is familiar with Placer basketball, but said he knows little about Ponderosa, Oakmont, Nevada Union or Rio Linda. To prepare for the unknown will mean sticking to the fundamentals and relying on those returning players.

Among those is junior Angelo Nicandro, a first-team all-league selection in the PVL as a sophomore last season. The 5-foot-9-inch point guard returns for his third varsity season.

“(Nicandro) is a two-year varsity player,” Ash said. “I don’t think experience, or new league, or anything that anybody throws at us – he has seen it before.”

Nicandro will be joined by returning former guard Austin Waymier. The 6-foot, 185-pound senior will move to forward this season.

Ash said Waymire not only played in 26 games last season, but is anxious to get more playing time. Averaging five points a game last season, Ash said Waymire’s move should give him extra minutes.

Inside, the Zebras will have 6-2, 205 Jake Avila, 6-3, 235 Grady Manley and 6-4, 225 Gabino Rodriguez. Rodriguez, a senior, did not play last year. Avila and Grady come in as juniors, but saw plenty of action as sophomores.

“Jake does some things well and Grady does some things well that Jake doesn’t, but they’re both pretty physical on the glass,” said Ash. “They are capable back-to-the-basket scorers.”

Although Lincoln will have a strong front court, Ash said his guards will likely drive the offense. He said he has some good shooters coming up from the junior varsity squad that come close to matching the talents of former players Zach Lowe and Zack Detillion.

The eighth-year coach said he could go 12 deep on his bench if needed, but his biggest concern is defense.

He said the Zebras demonstrate good team defense, but having that stopper who can shut down an opponent’s go-to guy in the clutch is still a question mark.

“We hope its Bo Culbertson (5-8, 160), but again, a junior who hasn’t played varsity basketball,” Ash said. “I think he can do it, but I don’t really know if we have the answer if put in that situation.”

Lincoln will play a strong preseason to prepare for the FVL. They open with a Foundation Game at Rio Americano Monday. Two games later they visit De La Salle and will also play in three preseason tournaments.

The first home game is 7 p.m. Tuesday hosting Casa Roble.

“I think we try to do a good job in our preseason of challenging ourselves; like De La Salle is our third game and they’re always tough,” said Ash. “Del Oro is still on there, we’re playing Franklin, we’re playing Granite Bay; there are some quality opponents on there.”

League play begins Jan. 8.