Nelson takes reigns of Grizzlies program

Granite Bay leans heavily on 6-foot-8 big man as they seek return playoff trip
By: Steven Wilson,
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Head Coach: Jason Sitterud

2015-16: 20-9 (6-6 SFL)

Top Returning players 

  • - Darren Nelson (Sr.)
  • - Steve Trythall (Sr.)
  • - Ryan Smith (Jr.)
  • - Dylan Cole (Sr.)
  • - Ryan Haug (Jr.)

Top newcomers

  • - Patrick Lambey (Jr.)
  • - Derek Galvan (Jr.)

Key departures

  • - Charlie Tooley
  • - Zach Jayousi
  • - Sean Boyle
  • - Kovey Palmaer

Strengths: The Grizzlies could have one of the toughest defenses in the SFL. With as much length and athleticism as they have, they should be able to hold teams in check.

Weaknesses: Nelson’s health is vital to this team’s success. If he stays on the floor, then they can compete with any team in the league. Without him, they’re in for a long night.


Everything was going right for Darren Nelson last Saturday. 

In the consolation finals of the Mark Macres Tournament, Nelson’s teammates found him early and often for a handful of wide-open looks and tough buckets in traffic as the big man set a new career-high. 

Nelson scored 40 of his team’s 75 points as the Grizzlies claimed a 17-point win over Monterey Trail and improved to 6-2 this year.

“I feel like, being in my fourth season, I’ve really figured out how to use my skills to the best of my ability,” Nelson acknowledged. “It all came together for me that night.”

Nelson’s eye-popping 40-point stat line is rare. He’s currently the league-leader in the Sierra Foothill League, ahead of Woodcreek’s Jordan Brown, who dropped 38 at Oak Ridge last season. But Nelson’s offensive onslaught could be something fans will see more of this season.

The team underwent major changes in the offseason and Nelson is the only returning starter in 2016. Charlie Tooley — one of the SFL’s most explosive offensive threats over the past three years — graduated and is now playing at UNR. Sean Boyle, Zach Jayousi, Kovey Palmaer, Scotty Henrichs and Chris Hurley are also gone. 

Stepping into the spotlight are juniors Ryan Smith, Derek Galvan and Ryan Haug, who will take over at point guard for Tooley. Transfer Patrick Lambey also hopes to see big minutes as the entire group of underclassmen assume a big role on this year’s squad.

“This is a different team because we’ve always kind of been guard-heavy,” Granite Bay’s veteran coach Jason Sitterud said. “But this year, we’re very long, so we’re going to try and play a different style — we’ve got guys who can shoot, and with Darren you’re always playing inside-out, so it’s going to be exciting to watch.”

Despite Nelson in the paint this year, the Grizzlies will be underdogs in the SFL once again. With Woodcreek’s early-season success and Folsom’s strong group of newcomers, Granite Bay will need to scratch and claw every night to stay in the playoff hunt.

“The SFL proves that every game is big,” Sitterud pointed out. “You can’t sleep on any team, but that’s what makes it fun. We’re excited to compete with Woodcreek, DO, Rocklin, and that’s why I would argue the SFL is one of the best leagues in Northern California — it’s an every night challenge.”

Although they’re relatively new to the playoff scene, Granite Bay could boast a formidable defense. Nelson, Lambey and Smith are all 6-4 or taller. Wing Steve Trythall, who missed most of last season with a micro-fracture in his leg, is one of the team’s potent perimeter shooters. He’s also 6-2 and quick for his height. With such length, it’s going to be hard for teams to score on them.

“People don’t think we have a chance this year, but we’re a lot better than they’re giving us credit for,” Smith pointed out. “I think we’ll have a chance against any of those teams.”

Smith, who perfected his craft over the summer with Team Superstar, is a 6-foot-6 shooting guard, who also plays point guard when Haug is on the bench. Despite his height, his lengthy wingspan creates a mismatch on offense and makes him a ballhawk on defense. 

“He plays like a guard,” Sitterud admitted. “He dribbles well. He takes care of the ball. He can shoot and score the ball when we need it.”

Smith was big for the Grizzlies in their second-to-last preseason game Tuesday as he helped them claim the 59-45 road win over Vacaville. The team has only two losses this preseason, but both were winnable games. 

“We’re getting better and that’s our program’s approach this year,” Sitterud admitted. “We’ve got a lot of young guys, only a couple returners, so we’ve used the preseason to fine tune a couple things so when league rolls around, we’re ready to compete and see what happens.”

Granite Bay concludes preseason play Wednesday at Whitney High before tipping off league play Jan. 6 at Oak Ridge. The Grizzlies aren’t hoping for another 40-point performance from Nelson in those games, but it would be nice.