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Basketball Preview: Weston Ranch High School

Nicholas Podesta

Calla High School will cover local high school basketball in the upcoming weeks and months. Today we showcase the Cougars of Weston Ranch High School.

Weston Ranch High School boys basketball is off and running. The Cougars are 6-2, ranked #3 in the Sac-Joaquin Section, and take the court in a first-round game with Mountain House High School of Tracy in the Modesto Christian Holiday Hoop Classic tonight at Modesto Christian High School.

This year’s program faced the daunting task of replacing four seniors (Xavion Bell, Khristian Holmes, Elijah Mobley, and Elliot Mobley); however, the Cougars had the good fortune of returning two starters (Richard Banks and Darrion Lilly), three seasoned role-players (Joziah Bell, Caleb Butler, and Shanveer Natt), and added two high energy transfers (Mateen Rafiq and Izaias White). Plugging in additions and combining returners is a nice luxury for a high school basketball program, and head coach Nicholas Podesta has made the most of bringing out the team’s talents and has Weston Ranch rolling early.

“I’m pretty excited about this group’s performance so far,” Podesta told The Lobo Life. “We’ve had success against some outstanding competition, and our six wins are a testament to the team’s effort and attitude.”

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Weston Ranch returned from their second trip to Las Vegas with a 3-1 tournament record, which earned them a second bracket, runner-up finish in the Tarkanian Classic. Once again, the Cougars traveled to southern Nevada to take on some of the Nation’s best, and the trip was well worth the effort. The Cougars won over Edgewater of Florida, Boulder Creek of Arizona, and West Ranch of California. The lone loss came at the hands of Liberty Magnet of Louisiana. Facing the top competition early in the season has been a staple of Weston Ranch High School basketball and helps the Cougars develop and grow for the remainder of the season.

“The Tarkanian Classic was a great test for our team,” Podesta said. “We faced some really tough competition, recording wins against teams from three different states. While we came up short of the championship, we discovered some things we can do better and learned from the experience.”

Rafiq, who signed a letter of intent to play with Cornell University in November and was named all-tournament in Las Vegas. He averages 19 points through eight games, demonstrating why he’s one of the best shooters in Northern California and justifying his Division 1 recruitment.

Surrounding Rafiq are White, Lilly, Natt, and Banks. So, it looks like the Cougars will be just fine absorbing the significant graduate losses from the 2022-2023 squad.

According to Podesta, four seniors will be the key to their success in 2023-2024. Isaias White (14 ppg) has been the Cougars most consistent performer. Darrion Lilly (15 ppg) returns for his third varsity campaign. The 6’5″ forward/center has grown from a timid sophomore playing varsity to a ferocious force in the middle, something Weston Ranch struggled with last year. Shanveer Natt (6 ppg) isn’t a scorer, but his overall game on both ends of the floor is exciting to watch. Natt routinely steps up defensive pressure to help Weston Ranch transition and will hit an occasional 3-pointer to boost the Cougars. The senior Weston Ranch will most rely on is Richard Banks (12 ppg). Banks continues to be aggressive on defense (averages three defensive rebounds and two steals per game), and he can take over games with his hustle and 3-point shooting.

Last year, after a long wait, the Cougars faced a new beginning and era. For Podesta, carrying that new group into the season was a challenge he accepted. This year, the challenge is more significant because of Weston Ranch’s depth and experience. However, Podesta says this team will be another example of Cougars basketball with high expectations.

“We want always to play the best basketball we can,” Podesta said. “We want our kids to compete, learn, and grow. We can still improve many areas, and we are far from peaking as a group. I’m excited to see how far we can go for the next two months.”

Tonight’s game against the 5-3 Mountain House Mustangs at Modesto Christian is scheduled for an 8:30 p.m. tipoff. Tickets are available on GOfan, and all games are live-streamed exclusively on the NFHS Network.

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