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Blue-Collar Bruins Have High Hopes On Basketball Court
It's tough to picture the blue-collar Riverbank High boys basketball program without a lunchbox and a hardhat.

The Bruins arguably dedicate more time to the sport than any high school program in the Sac-Joaquin Section, with each extra hour logged through a busy offseason.

And so far, they've outworked everyone on the court as well.

"I think we play harder than anybody we face and it's tough to prepare for us," Riverbank coach Jeff Jennings said. "What are you going to tell your team? I need you to play harder to prepare for Riverbank. You can practice against the zone, the press, work your offense or play simulate, but it's tough to simulate guys playing really hard."

Nineteen days into the season, Riverbank's varsity boys sport an 8-0 record with a 480-335 scoring advantage over seven different opponents that combined for a 114-82 record and six playoff qualifications a season ago.

The Bruins toppled Mother Lode League favorite, Bret Harte, in a 51-42 showdown on Dec. 13. The Bullfrogs led 15-8 after a quarter but couldn't stop a 32-15 Bruin rally in the next two periods. Sophomore Rolaun Dunham paced Riverbank with 19 points and nine rebounds while junior Kenny Veliz (16 points) and senior Alex Reynaga (eight) also landed scores.

Three days later, Riverbank was seriously tested at the Ray Fauria Memorial Gymnasium against a powerful Sonora team that returned most of a 2010-11 team that claimed a Division III playoff seed.

Sonora sports a six foot, eight inch center, two 6-6 power forwards and a 6-4 small forward on their starting lineup. The height helped Sonora control a fierce zone defense to keep Riverbank out of the paint, but couldn't stop terrific play from the perimeter.

Riverbank led 34-26 at the half but watched Sonora close to a 45-all tie to start the final period of play. Consecutive three-point shots from Logan Nabors and Reynaga broke the deadlock and Reynaga ignited the home crowd just minutes later when he drained a fade away trey at the shot clock buzzer with defenders in his face. Reynaga would sink his next three-point shot less than two minutes later to lead Riverbank to a 67-57 win. He landed five of his six treys in the second half and nabbed 22 points. Veliz scored 13 of his 17 points in the second quarter while Nabors, Robert Martinez, Anthony Navarette and Markus Benson each scored three in the win. Dunham scored 16 on the Wildcats, including six straight in the final minute on consecutive free throw attempts to seal the win.

"I knew he would come through," Reynaga said. "I expect Rolaun to make clutch free throws."

Reynaga was plenty clutch himself, and showcased his perimeter play when his buzzer beater hit home from a post well beyond the three-point arc. His big shots broke Sonora traps and his resilient pressure defense kept Sonora on edge all night.

"With big guys like that we have to run up and down the floor and get them tired," Reynaga said. "I worked on my shot in the offseason and I was able to keep shooting my threes."

Despite a summer regiment that included football workouts, Reynaga was one of five players to drain 1,500 three-point shots this summer. Veliz, Dunham, Benson and Armando Manriquez also reached the mark. Benson put in over 170 hours of offseason work and was a big part of Riverbank's 1,240 extra varsity hours in the gym or weight room. Between all three levels, Riverbank trudged through over 2,334 hours of work in the offseason with 10 players logging over 100 extra hours of work.

According to Jennings, the offseason work translates directly to Riverbank's efforts on the court.

"We got a lot of kids that put in a lot of work, and when you invest that much time and energy you will hate to lose," Jennings said. "Losses will come and be a part of it, but our goal is to be the toughest mentally and physically and be the hardest working team in the Valley."

Riverbank is in a position to better last year's 17-8 overall record and 6-6 conference showing despite graduating longtime Trans-Valley League standout, Zack Gonzales. The team returns four starters (Reynaga, Dunham, Navarette, Martinez) and has shown a new ability to score often from any position of the floor. Six players have scored over 30 points in eight games with Reynaga, Veliz and Dunham sporting 90 or more points.

Veliz, a junior varsity standout a season ago, has emerged into a serious scoring role with the ability to push into a hot streak and seriously scorch opposing defenses.

He brought the Bruin crowd to a roar when he took a breakaway and soared to the rim for a dunk-like move with only 12 seconds to play against Sonora. At five feet, 10 inches tall, Veliz was able to reach the rim and connect as the ball dropped into the net.

"I'm not going to say that's a bona fide 100 percent dunk, so I'll say it was an 'unk'," Jennings said with a laugh. "On a good day at my peak I could barely touch the rim, so who am I to tell him what a dunk is."