By Joe Davidson
The first coach to call Deonard Wilson when he landed the Grant High School basketball coaching gig three years ago was his old buddy Derek Swafford.
They continue to phone each other weekly, sharing stories of player achievement and team goals. Swafford, the veteran Sacramento initially coach, told Wilson that it would take three years of tireless work to build a program and to reach the NBA building not too far from Del Paso Heights that now goes by Sleep Train Arena.
Only the master plan for Swafford didn't call for a Grant stunner at his expense.
On Wednesday night, Swafford and Wilson embraced before and after a Sac-Joaquin Section Division II semifinal pitting programs that have played the sport since the 1930s. The upstart, No. 5-seeded Pacers downed the top-seeded Dragons 72-69 in a thriller affair that included a frenetic pace - right on down to the dueling drumlines that thundered in the arena - and cool late foul shooting to ice it.
DeSean Parsons, Grant's superb 6-foot-7 senior guard, had 26 points and took over down the stretch as he has so many times for this bounce-back Pacers season. His steal, dunk and subsequent free throw gave Grant a 66-62 lead with 1:23. He came up with another steal and fed Donovan Brown for a layup for a 68-62 lead with 1:08 to go, and the upset was on.
Afterwards, Grant principal Craig Murray led a charge of high fives and hugs for scores of fans and students who have embraced the gritty and active Pacers. In the back tunnel, Wilson leaned against the wall, exhaled and composed himself.
"I'm so proud for this great school, our kids, the community, and I'm the happiest guy in the building," said Wilson, embracing 12-year old son Jevon.
The Pacers (23-7) are now feeling a bit more greedy. Next is second-seeded and defending champion Antelope on Saturday at Sleep Train. Grant won its first section title in 1977 and its last in 1999.
"It's one thing to get here," Parsons said, "but now we want to win it."
Pacers baseball star Brandon Nunn had 12 points and Brown 10. Joseph Barnes and James Hadnot led Sacramento (23-7) with 23 and 20 points, respectively. The Dragons came in with five D-III titles in seven title-game appearances since 2005, and they will still advance to the NorCal playoffs as do all section semifinalists.
"My hat's off to Grant," Swafford said. "They haven't been here in a long, long time. I know what that feels like. I am really proud of Deonard and happy for him and his kids."
Bee photo by Jose Luis Villegas: Grant's De'Sean Parsons lays a ball up for two points in the third quarter.