SportStars Magazine

Into The Light

Devin Greene leads a Sheldon hoops team out of the shadows of sanctions and toward redemption

  By KEITH JOUGANATOS | Contributor
  At 5:30 a.m., most of Sheldon High’s population is still trying to catch those last precious moments of sleep. But Devin Greene, arguably the most vital part to the Huskies boys basketball team, is in the gymnasium covered in sweat from the curls on his head to the Nikes on his feet.

  Only the music of J. Cole echoing throughout the gym breaks through the surrounding silence

  Greene, a junior guard, could easily take the star route. He could act conceited, scrape through his classes, go through the motions, do just enough to get by. But that’s not the dude they call D. Greene — not by a long shot.

  Every day, he goes through drills that could bring even a bystander to the edge of passing out.

  “It’s peaceful,” he says between gasps for breaths before finishing his thought with a smile. “I’ve been through crazier situations.”

  That’s Devin Greene in a nutshell.

  At a time in his life where finding peace and staying calm has seemed to be a struggle for everyone surrounding him, Greene finds serenity the way he always has. His calm is a paradox when contrasted with the chaos and sheer madness that has clouded everything associated with the Sheldon boys basketball program recently.

  From banners to sanctions and back to potential banners, the one thing that has remained a constant is Devin Greene and the ball. That is his perpetual starting point: an orange sphere holds the key not only to his constant composure but also to the madness that surrounds him like a suffocating full court press.

  “It doesn’t do you any good to panic in a situation,” says Greene. “You have to control what you can and then take it one day at a time and be a solution to the problem.”

  The outside chatter that surrounds his teammates, his coaches, his school and himself is drowned out by the simple rhythm of that same basketball slamming into the teal and tan colored floorboards inside the Sheldon High gym.

  Every move he makes paints a mental picture of what he has endured in basketball and life. Success, defeat, highs and lows, the cheering of fans and the snickering of detractors all joined together to form a braced smile from the kid who never seems to be too confident or too down.

  THE RIVALRY
  Sheldon High sits just inside the Sacramento city limits, but is part of the Elk Grove Unified School District. In Elk Grove, unity is everything. It’s what binds together a city that outsiders deem a boring, dull, and uneventful place to live.

  Those within the city limits who understand what makes the community special have a saying: “Don’t talk about the Grove if you’re not from the Grove.”

  It’s a place where everyone knows your parents and where you live. Young basketball players grow up together, and form bonds in elementary and middle school before a difficult decision must be made.

  And those bonds become tested once you become a Sheldon Husky or a Pleasant Grove Eagle.

  For two winter nights out of the year the same unity that binds the community is put on hold as one of the premiere regional basketball rivalries takes place. One side decked out in teal and black, the other in red and blue.

  The week of a Pleasant Grove-Sheldon game brings a buzz and excitement to the entire community, with everyone anxiously awaiting the 7 p.m. tip-off.

  “It’s crazy, because everybody is cool with each other, but for those two nights it’s a different atmosphere in the building,” 2013 Sheldon graduate Sam Alnassiri said. “I remember my senior year beating them and us storming their court like it was yesterday.”

  Pleasant Grove alum Charlie Bartholomeow remembers things differently.

  “Way we always saw it was that all they could do was beat us in basketball,” Bartholomeow recounts. “Everything else we killed them in always.”

  Sheldon High opened in 1997, and quickly developed its basketball program into one of the premier Sacramento-area powers. From 2009 to 2012 the Huskies won four straight Sac-Joaquin Section Championships and represented Northern California in the 2012 CIF Division I State Championship game, falling 66-48 to Mater Dei-Santa Ana. One year later, Pleasant Grove reached the Div. I state final and brought home the hardware that eluded their rivals the year before by beating Santa Monica 73-57.

  Cody Demps is a former Pleasant Grove player and current member of the first-place Sacramento State men’s team. He remembers those crazy nights where bodies filled the gymnasium beyond capacity.

  “Super intense” says Demps. “The fact that both teams know each other and the student sections constantly get into it only adds to the atmosphere.”

  It seems no one is taking the most recent rivalry more seriously than Greene. That will be especially true on Friday, Feb. 13, when the Huskies host the Eagles for the second of their two Delta League showdowns. That’s because nothing went right for Greene in the first meeting on Jan. 23 at Pleasant Grove. He fouled out after scoring just three points on an 0-for-9 night from the field. Sheldon lost 65-61.

  That loss gave birth to a six-game winning streak for the Huskies, which began the second week of February with a one-game lead over the Eagles in the league standings. Greene and his teammates would all but lock up the league title with a win the second time around, but to do so they’ll have to contain the senior duo of guard Johann Tate (21 points in the first meeting) and 6-foot-9 Washington-bound big man Marquese Chriss (17 points, nine rebounds).

  “What you love about this game is the intensity,” Chriss said prior to the Jan. 23 game. “When you got a guy like Dev on the other end, knowing how crafty he is, you have to be prepared for everything.”

  EARNING HIS WINGS
  His story starts out with pictures. The journey for the shy and unassuming Greene ironically began in the spotlight taking pictures.

  Standing at midcourt at Power Balance Pavilion, Greene was at the center of the Sacramento basketball scene as a freshman taking a celebratory picture in 2013.

  Happiness filled him. He was living the dream, celebrating Sheldon’s fourth straight section championship with teammates. He beamed from ear to ear, thrilled with a championship that had the added satisfaction of beating Pleasant Grove.

  “To win it was crazy, but to do it over your rival school? That was something special,” says Greene. “It felt like the sky was the limit that night for our future.”

  The feeling might have been special, but the outcome was not new by any means. Coach Joey Rollings had done what was believed to be impossible, built a public school dynasty. Winning consecutive section banners gets a program noticed, but winning four in a row begins a legacy.

  But nothing was handed to Greene. He had to earn his colors, his spot, the right to call himself a member of the fraternity.

  “I feel like looking back I was the toughest on Dev,” said Dakari Allen, a San Diego State sophomore who was a senior on the 2012-13 Sheldon team. “But you knew he was the future.”

  “When you hand the reigns over, you need to make sure the dude after you is ready to take them. And he proved that every day in the gym.”

  Greene was learning how to win on the fly via tough love from his teammates and coach. No training wheels, nobody holding his hand. But when his shot came, he would make sure it wouldn’t pass him by.

  He earned his colors in the CIF Open Div. Northern Regional final against Bay Area-power Archbishop Mitty-San Jose and future Arizona Wildcat and NBA first-round draft pick Aaron Gordon.

  With starting point guard D’Erryl Williams hurt, Greene finally had his chance to fly. And he took off. He scored 20 points in a losing effort. But after that it was a done deal. No one would question his spot any longer. He was in.

  That season was a tornado of highs in his memory bank — a collage of wins, honors and numerous trips to the WingStop on Calvine Road that the Huskies referred to as the “Winged Kingdom.”

  “That’s where we would go and still do always,” says Greene. “You have to earn your way into the Winged Kingdom, you can’t just get in,” he says with a laugh.

  FROM COLLAPSE TO RISE
  But, unbeknownst to Greene or anybody else in the program, the fun and laughing was soon to come to a halt.

  As quickly as the smile on his face was plastered everywhere around his school, Greene found reason to hide it. It started with Rollings being suspended four weeks by the Elk Grove Unified School District following allegations of illegal transfers and undue influence. Two weeks later, the CIF would come down with its own punishment.

  The CIF supported the EGUSD’s decision, and immediately ruled five players on Sheldon’s roster ineligible. Four were not allowed to play until Jan. 27 of this year.

  The section banned Sheldon from the playoffs in 2014 and reduced the number of games it could play this season from 27 to 24. In addition, the team was limited to one tournament in each of its next two seasons, and the program was placed on probation through the end of the 2015-16 school year.

  The section determined that there were “several instances of undue influence in trying to persuade current high school players to transfer to Sheldon.

  The bus had come to a screeching halt, the gym no longer rocking, the Winged Kingdom closed up for the time being.

  And in the middle of everything once again was Devin Greene. Forced to play the hand he and his teammates were dealt from a situation that was not in his control.

  “It just felt like everybody else talked about it, but in the end we were the ultimate ones who had to suffer,” Greene said. “It was tough.”

  Rod Greene has worked with his son his entire life. He was able to help Devin know what to do on the basketball court. But this was something out of his control now. And he, just like his son, was forced to deal with the backlash that came with it.

  “What hurt me the most was certain people and others outside of the situation calling my son and these poor kids cheaters knowing good and well that this wasn’t their fault,” said Rod Greene. “If things in fact did happen then blame the people who made it so, but don’t punish the kids for that.”

  But where others saw negativity, Devin Greene was quick to see the positive.

  “Coach Rollings came into the room and told us we had two choices,” said Greene. “Either let what we had worked hard to build die, or come back stronger than ever, and so we did.”

  That resilience was fully on display following the team’s Jan. 23 loss at Pleasant Grove.

  “We’ll be back,” Devin said. “If we let this get to us too hard, we lose sight of the goals we have in mind.”

  And in defeat lies Greene’s ability to see the silver lining. Through the good, the bad, the championships, and the sanctions at his school, he remains the constant middle ground that refuses to give in no matter how difficult the obstacles.

  People like winners, they respect fighters. They love people who never give up.

  And Devin Greene and the Sheldon Huskies have not given up.

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