Basketball

Rattlers hitting the road for basketball-filled weekend

The Rancho Mirage Holiday Invitational continues to pay dividends for the Rattler boys’ basketball team.

After playing five games in five days and also helping work and coordinate tournaments being played in five different gyms, the Rancho Mirage coaches and players plan to use some of the revenue for a team bonding four-day trip up to central California that is all about basketball.

“The most important thing this time of the year is league, but we also want to give our kids some life experiences,” coach Rob Hanmer said. “Getting to go to college and NBA games is something that they’ll talk about forever, and we’re also looking forward to playing a playoff-caliber opponent that will help keep us sharp and help us prepare for the playoffs.”

Friday, a group of 32 Rattler players, coaches and team staff will head up on a charter bus for Monday’s De La Salle MLK Classic hosted by the CIF State Open Division runners-up from a year ago. The team plans to stay in a hotel Friday night in Walnut Creek, but there’s a basketball twist: the hotel has a gym, where the Rattlers will practice Friday night and Saturday morning.

Early Saturday afternoon, the team has tickets to see Cal host Washington State at 1 p.m., followed by a tour of the San Francisco Giants baseball facility.

“One of our coaches used to work at the Giants baseball stadium, so we’re getting a tour of the stadium, the locker room and the clubhouse,” Hanmer said. “I’m kind of a an arena junkie, so I’m really excited for that.”

At 8 p.m. that night, Rancho Mirage will watch the University of San Francisco men’s basketball team host University of Pacific.

Early Sunday, the team will head north to Sacramento to tour the state capital before the premier basketball spectator event of the weekend: watching arguably the NBA’s best player, Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook, as his squad takes on the host Sacramento Kings in the brand-new Golden 1 Center.

After the game, the Rattler players will get to go on the court and shoot free throws, hoping to get a feel for where they’d theoretically play a CIF State championship basketball game for their division in March.

“It’s gonna be a good experience for all the kids to get to see what the professional guys do and the type of atmosphere of that arena,” senior guard Charles Neal said.

READ MORE: Charles Neal’s future murky, skills sharp as ever

With all of the sight-seeing and distractions out of the way, the team will finally take the court Monday morning at 10 a.m. against last season’s Division 3 state champions Manteca.

After all the sightseeing the players will do in the two days leading up to game time, there will be plenty of time to get distracted and forget the reason the Rattlers are there in the first place. Neal said as great as the opportunities they have Saturday and Sunday are, how quickly they put them out of their focus will be key.

“There’s always going to be distractions, and that’s what this trip is about, how we handle distractions,” Neal said. “The coaches have all been preaching that we’re going up there to play a basketball game. It’s not just about everything else. It’s about going up and playing ball on Monday.”

As far as that 90-minute time slot Monday morning is concerned, Hanmer said he’s very excited to get a chance to face a Division 1-caliber big man in Manteca’s Tydus Verhoeven, who has offers from Weber State, Nevada and Fresno State. The senior, who stands 6-foot-8, has averaged 14.6 points and 11 rebounds per game this season and will be a tough task for junior Bryan Talley and company to defend down low.

Win or lose, though, facing Verhoeven and the Buffaloes, Hanmer hopes, will prepare the Rattlers for what they hope is a very deep playoff run starting in just over a month.

“The deeper you go in the playoffs, teams typically have big guys. It’s not often you get to play against teams with big kids, and I definitely think playing against Manteca Monday will give us that opportunity,” Hanmer said.

Of the court, this whirlwind four-day journey will allow the Rattler coaches and players to get to know each other even better for when their entire season is on the line – where the Rattlers faltered a year ago in their CIF SS semifinals loss to Chaminade.

“Spending four days nonstop with each other, you find out things about your team that you might not see normally,” he said. “Hopefully this brings us together and allows us to trust each other a bit more when the trip is done, and when times are tough, you’ll have some shared experiences.”

20th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Classic

Where: Saint Mary’s College

When: All day Monday, Jan. 16

Rancho Mirage: Plays defending Division 3 state champion Manteca at 10 a.m.

Where to watch: Games will be streamed on http://www.delasalletv.com

Charles Neal pushes forward and scores for Rancho Mirage

Charles Neal pushes forward and scores for Rancho Mirage