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Ready For Tip Off Bruin Boys Eyeing Tough TVL Schedule
They call it the Riverbank Ballers Klub, intentionally misspelled to allow that revered RBK acronym.

It's a program implemented by Riverbank High head boys basketball coach, Jeff Jennings, to track voluntary workouts from his program's athletes.

So far, it's been a resounding and unimaginable success.

Bruin players across all three levels of play put in over 1,000 hours of extra participation, both on the court and in Riverbank's weight room. The varsity team accounts for over 730 hours of work, outside the team's normal barrage of practices.

Add that work to Riverbank's 30 summer league contests, and you have one of the most dedicated and hard-working collection of athletes in Bruin history across any sport.

"I know it's still early in the season, but our skill level is much higher than in years past at this point," Jennings said. "When the kids have invested so much it hurts to lose, and that has really paid off."

It certainly has.

Riverbank's varsity team kicked off the 2010-11 season with six straight wins, adding a 48-46 victory at Sonora on Dec. 17 for a 7-1 start to season loaded with potential.

And Riverbank hasn't been playing cupcake games. Their eight preseason opponents sport a combined record of 39-36 (including 0-7 Waterford).

Riverbank won their host Ron Peterson Tip-Off Tournament, and began the difficult Oakdale Rotary Classic on Tuesday, Dec. 28. Six of the eight teams in the Oakdale tourney went in with winning records.

But the difficult preseason schedule is a must if Riverbank hopes to end the streak of five straight losing seasons in the Trans-Valley League (they were 7-7 in 2004-05).

They have all the tools to end that slide, with a deep bench and scoring potential across the floor. Games in 2011 will also mark the final prep contests for three-year varsity star, Zack Gonzales.

The lanky Bruin senior has averaged double digit numbers in both points and rebounds through the first eight games of Riverbank's season. Most of his success has fallen in line with the added production from the rest of the lineup, opposing defenses forced to draw their attention to other scorers who have scorched them this season.

Freshman sensation Rolaun Dunham, savvy center Antony Navarette, shifty point guard Alex Reynaga and sure-shooting Robert Martinez have been responsible for most of that attention.

"We are just more athletic than we have been in a while," Jennings said. "It really helps that we have real scoring talent around Zack to draw away some of those double and triple teams he's seen in the past."

Dunham, a highly regarded junior high talent, was pulled up over the summer to compete with Riverbank's varsity program, and responded with nothing but dedication. He leads all Bruins in the RBK with well over 100 hours of extra work.

The raw desire and tireless effort has convinced Jennings that his six-foot freshman talent is capable of some amazing things in his four-year career.

"Physically and skill wise he certainly belongs at the varsity level," Jennings said. "He's a 4.0 student, he's extremely humble and he has a passion for the game that is un-matched.

"He's already a special player, but he has the chance to accomplish some amazing things with basketball."

Riverbank plays with 15 players on the roster, and Jennings said at least 10 of them are capable of starting as the year progresses. Seniors Ivan Manriquez, Manuel Jimenez and Rodrigo Silva have already delivered tremendous efforts off the bench, while junior Bruce Gong has proven his worth in reverse situations as well.

Riverbank doesn't lean on anyone with a particular height advantage, but everyone in the starting roster (outside of 5-7 point guard, Reynaga) eclipses six feet in height.

That height should come in handy against the tall frames of most TVL stars, including the 6-5 stature of Modesto Christian's top scorer, Anthony Pratt. Escalon power forward Tyler Schuurman (14 points, nine rebounds per game) and Ripon center Jake McCreath (14.8 points, 9.8 rebounds per game) are both listed at 6-4.

Reigning section champs, Modesto Christian, will join Escalon and Ripon among the list of tough TVL foes in 2011, but the Bruins will be eying the top of the pack as well.

"We are off to a great start but league is always tough," Jennings said. "We challenged ourselves this preseason in hopes that we would learn to win some of the tough games we lost last year.

"We hope to be a playoff team."