The Del Norte boys basketball team still has over half of its varsity players practicing on the gridiron for at least another week, but the Warriors’ hoops season will kick off on Thursday anyway at the Yreka Miners Invitational.

Although basketball practice started several weeks ago, the Warriors still have six players that head coach Blaine Lopez expects to be on the varsity squad that have yet to step foot on the hardwood this winter. Five of those players are expected to compete for significant playing time this season.

That has put Del Norte significantly behind the ball when it comes to preseason preparation.

“Obviously it has been hard,” Lopez said. “We have three freshmen that are practicing with the varsity and three or four sophomores. There are a lot of guys that haven’t been at this level before, so practices have definitely been challenging. That is not their fault, obviously, they are learning as fast as they can and they are doing the best that they can. They are great kids and I am glad that we have them around, but it just makes it hard because it is a different level than what they are used to.”

Del Norte is planning on taking a total of 10 players to Yreka for the tournament, scheduled to run through Saturday, but only half of those players are expected to stay on the varsity squad throughout the season. The other five will likely spend the bulk of the year with the junior varsity team.

“The hard part is just the numbers. We are missing five kids,” Lopez said. “We have had good years in football before, but five guys is a lot of guys and those are guys that are going to compete for playing time. That is something that we have never been through before. We will just have to see.”

While practicing without a significant portion of its rotation has been difficult, Lopez said the most frustrating thing about the whole situation has been that the Warrior football team itself has been stuck in practice mode.

The No. 2 seeded Del Norte football team is currently preparing for the North Coast Section semifinal round on Saturday, but the Warriors played their quarterfinal game more than two weeks ago. Since then Del Norte has been practicing, but waiting, as the NCS has run into air quality issues in the locations of the other three quarterfinal games.

According to the football schedule released before the season, the Del Norte football team would either be finished for the year at this point or preparing for the NorCal Championship game after winning the school’s first ever section championship in football.

“Here is the part that bothers me: if the football team is winning every game and still playing that great — but they haven’t played in two weeks and that sucks because they would either be done, or playing in a game that we have never been to before. Either way would be cool because you know how much I love football,” said Lopez, who is a former quarterback and offensive coordinator for the football team. “I’m not saying it is anyone’s fault, but the section should have done something a long time ago.”

Instead, the Del Norte basketball team will head into its first tournament of the season without several key players. The Warriors will still have some experienced talent heading to Yreka though. Senior Nolan O’Kelly will be kicking off his third season on the Del Norte varsity team in Yreka while classmate Judah Robinson will be returning after a successful junior season. Those seniors will be joined by juniors Omar Banuelos and Damian Dowd, who both played a lot of minutes on the varsity team last season, and Alex Dodson.

“I think they know that we are going with some inexperienced, but again we have some guys that have been there before,” Lopez said. “Those guys have a responsibility — they are going to have to play well. Let’s be realistic: they don’t have the luxury of not playing well, whereas on other nights maybe they will a little bit. It’s just not an option this weekend. We just have to go play as well as we can play, play as hard as we can play, and then just see what happens.”

In addition to playing hard and taking over as the leaders of the team, Lopez said it will also be important for the Warrior starters to play smart.

“We have to stay out of foul trouble, because if we get into foul trouble we will be in trouble. The other thing that worries me is we are going to get tired,” Lopez said. “We are playing three games over there, and I don’t care what anybody says, you are going to get tired.”

Meanwhile, five more players that will likely spend the season with the Warrior JV squad will get an up close and personal look at what life is like at the varsity level.

“For the young guys the good thing for them is that, even in practice, it is such a higher pace than they are going to see again when they get back with their regular group,” Lopez said. “That part should be good for them. Some of the young guys will maybe get some minutes in a varsity game and they are going to see what it is like for sure.”

Del Norte is scheduled to open the tournament against University Prep at 1 p.m. on Thursday. If the Warriors win, they would play again at 2:30 p.m. Friday against the winner of Henley and Mt. Shasta. If Del Norte loses on Thursday they would play again at 11:30 a.m. Friday against the loser of the same game.

June Jordan, Weed, Klamath Union and host Yreka are all on the other side of the bracket in Yreka.

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