Modesto Christian boys basketball coach Brice Fantazia provides some instruction during a timeout against Salesian.

'Let's test ourselves.' Crusaders' gauntlet includes St. Mary's, Vanden & Oak Hill.

James Burns

Aaron Murphy’s tender ankle. Keeping his locker room disinfected and flu-free. Who will be the school's next football coach?

Modesto Christian boys basketball coach Brice Fantazia worries about a lot of things, but the Crusaders’ national-best league winning streak isn’t among his list of concerns. Modesto Christian has won 188 consecutive league games, a streak that dates back to 1996 and spans stints in the Southern League, Trans-Valley League, Modesto Metro Conference and now the Tri-City Athletic League.

“The league streak — the players know about it, but it’s not like we worry about it,” Fantazia said. “It’s going to end someday. We’re not going to base our season off league. We want to get ready for the playoffs, so that’s why we’ve scheduled these games.”

With the likes of Gonzaga Prep of Washington, Perry of Arizona, and an overtime loss to Salesian, the Crusaders’ schedule has been one of the strongest in the nation. It stiffens again, beginning with Monday’s TCAL clash at St. Mary’s of Stockton. The Rams are No. 13 in Northern California, according to SportStars Magazine, while the Crusaders are No. 3 in the same poll.

In the tale of the tape, St. Mary’s has at least one advantage: The Rams have beaten Bay Area power Campolindo, 58-51. The Cougars, anchored by brothers Carter and Aidan Mahaney, spoiled Modesto Christian’s run at the Holiday Hoop Classic with a stunning 63-60 win.

“We were lethargic and didn’t play well at Holiday Hoop,” Fantazia said. “Us being under the weather had something to do with it, but Campolindo came out and played a great game. We get everyone’s best every single night. It’s hard for our kids to bring that kind of energy every single game. We looked worn out. Lately, we have that pep to our step.”

The Crusaders are coming around.

International forwards and roommates Tsotne Tsardsidse and Alex Merkviladze are healthy again after spending “about 10 days in bed” with the flu, Fantazia said. Murphy is also expected to play against the Rams after sitting out last week’s win over Tokay with an ankle injury. On Saturday, he received cryotherapy treatment before joining practice late.

Since falling to Campolindo, Modesto Christian has won five straight.

“Our chemistry is going up. Our practices are getting better. We took a step back and reevaluated everything as a team,” said junior Baljot Sahi, who set a program record with 10 3-pointers against Tokay. “We’re going harder than ever before and building that chemistry. We’ll be really good come March.”

The next two weeks will test the Crusaders’ mettle. Modesto Christian will play seven games in 12 days, including tilts with Vanden (Jan. 19), St. John Bosco (MaxPreps MLK Showcase, Jan. 21) and Oak Hill Academy (Nike Extravaganza at Mater Dei, Jan. 26).

In the TCAL, games with St. Mary’s, Tracy (Jan. 16) -- a team that features Pacific-bound guard Isaiah Hawthorne -- Lincoln (Jan. 23) and West (Jan. 24) complete the gauntlet.

While he isn’t worried about the league streak, Fantazia says he prepares for each game as though it is a section final. He’s studied each of his upcoming opponents and tailored Saturday's session to St. Mary's strengths and tendencies.

“I try to coach every game as if that’s the big game. It doesn’t matter who we are playing,” he said. “We always prepare as if that’s a section championship game. It lets the guys know we have to handle business. Hopefully, it pays off.”

"We want to win every single game, but people have called me crazy for the schedule we have. I know how hard we work all year round. I have ultimate confidence. Let's go test ourselves."

Follow James Burns on Twitter @jburns1980, or email him at

Tough Stretch Ahead

Jan. 14: at St. Mary’s
Jan. 16: vs. Tracy
Jan. 19: vs. Vanden
Jan. 21: vs. St. John Bosco at MaxPreps MLK Showcase
Jan. 23: at Lincoln
Jan. 24: vs. West
Jan. 26: Oak Hill Academy at Mater Dei Nike Extravaganza