Hillmen hit a growth spurt

Young Placer squad looking for consistency, waiting for senior point guard Centi to heal up
By: Todd Mordhorst Journal Sports Editor
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Placer High’s boys basketball team had coach Mark Lee shaking his head in frustration Saturday night. Three days later, the Hillmen left their coach with a broad smile. Such is life with a young team. Placer is holding its own, even without top returner Darren Centi, who may miss the rest of the non-league schedule with a broken collarbone he suffered on the football field. The Hillmen are 4-5 after an impressive 79-63 win over Casa Roble Tuesday night in their first home game of the season. Junior Alec Knox dominated in his first varsity game at Earl Crabbe Gym. The 6-4 forward had 27 points, 16 rebounds and five blocks. “He’s getting better all the time,” Lee said of Knox. “He moved here from New York before last year and he hadn’t really played organized basketball before.” Knox is Placer’s only true post player. He said his brother Ryan Knox – who graduated from Placer last spring – has helped him improve his game. “I’ve played a lot with my brother,” Knox said. “He really loves basketball. He’s the one who’s motivated me the most. Just playing the last two years has helped me so much.” Sophomore Isaiah Pineiro (6-4) has seen significant time already this season and fellow sophomore Peter Kean (6-2) is a starter as Lee has two 10th graders on the varsity squad for the first time in 23 seasons as a head coach. “We’re starting to move the ball better,” Lee said. “We’ve got to play good defense and rebound to have success. And if we move the ball, we can get good shots.” Junior guard Cody Riggs has played well in place of Centi. He’s an excellent ball handler and very good at finishing off drives. Senior Josh Turney is Placer’s go-to outside shooter. The 5-10 guard drained five 3-pointers against Casa Roble, finishing with 19 points. Fellow senior Koal Swisley is a slashing forward and a solid mid-range shooter. He scored 17, including 9 of 10 from the free throw line, in the win over the Rams. Placer finished 16-12 overall last season, taking third place in the Pioneer Valley League and falling to Manteca in the first round of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III playoffs. PVL newcomers Foothill and Center are both perennial powers and rival Colfax figures to be a contender again when the league schedule begins next month. But early on in the season, no PVL team has looked dominant. “I think everybody’s neck-and-neck right now,” Knox said. The Hillmen are looking forward to the return of Centi, who will add a speedy ball handler and a veteran presence on the court. “He’s going to bring a lot of energy,” Knox said of the 5-9 guard. “He’ll also add some maturity to the team. He’s a great senior leader.”