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Kings can draw hope from 49ers

Sierra Scoop
By: Todd Mordhorst Journal Sports Editor
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After four seasons of brutal basketball in Sacramento, Kings fans are just looking for some hope these days. San Francisco 49er fans might be able to provide some after their wild ride in 2011. The Niners are enjoying a bye week after winning 13 games and earning the No. 2 seed in the NFC playoffs. This is the same team that never won more than eight games over the past eight seasons and looked inept on and off the field for most of that time. In stepped Jim Harbaugh and everything changed. Alex Smith turned into a competent quarterback. The 49ers’ defense went from solid to the best in the NFL. And the team’s outlook went from dreary to rosy, all within a few months. Can Keith Smart perform the same type of remodel with the Kings? It’s a lot to ask of the coach who took over for Paul Westphal on Thursday. The team’s two top players — Demarcus Cousins and Tyreke Evans — have appeared disgruntled and unhappy, though their relationships with Westphal could have been to blame. The 49ers’ key players — Smith, Frank Gore, Vernon Davis and Patrick Willis — helped make Harbaugh’s job easier. Smith, who didn’t even have a contract at the time, led voluntary off-season workouts when the NFL players were locked out. The 49ers also had a roster with lots of talent and a favorable schedule that included plenty of NFC West cupcakes. The Kings don’t have a true point guard on their roster, other than rookie Isaiah Thomas. It’s no coincidence they’re averaging a league-low 14 assists per game. Opponents average a whopping 24.75 assists against the Kings. And the Kings making a run at the playoffs in a loaded Western Conference would be an underdog story of Hickory High proportions. Harbaugh was able to eliminate or work around the issues that plagued the 49ers for so many years. Smart appears to have the same energy and determination. Like Harbaugh, he’s a former player and has coached under some of the greats in the game. The Kings may be a player or two away from becoming the team that thrilled Sacramento night after night for six glorious years from 1999-06. But I was saying the same thing about the 49ers back in August before Harbaugh restored my belief in the power of a great coach. … Last week’s list of the top sports stories of 2011 had one inexplicable omission. The Del Oro High track and field team had a remarkable season under first-year coach Dustin Fee, including a relay team that shattered records. The Golden Eagles’ 4x400-meter relay squad, made up of Kenny Andri, Casey Wheeler, Blake Covey and Kai VonAlvenslaben, blazed to a time of 3 minutes, 18 seconds to win the Sac-Joaquin Section Masters title. At the prestigious CIF State Championships, the Eagles won their qualifying heat and placed seventh in the state with a time of 3:17.71. The Del Oro team finished the year with a new school record, a new Sierra Foothill League record, and a section Division II record. Not bad. Todd Mordhorst’s column runs Sundays in the Journal. Comment online at AuburnJournal.com.