Modesto Christian freshman point guard Rashod Cotton shadows a Campolindo player on Thursday, Dec. 29, 2022, during the semifinal round of the Holiday Hoop Classic. Modesto Christian advanced to the final with a 48-39 victory. (Diego Hernandez)

Crusader freshman developing quickly, clutch 3 seals Holiday Hoop finals berth

Independent Contributor

For now, the scouting report on Modesto Christian centers on one player – San Diego State-bound senior BJ Davis, a quick-twitch guard who can score from anywhere on the floor.

Without Jamari Phillips, the Cal-Hi Sports State Sophomore Player of the Year who transferred to AZ Compass Prep over the weekend, and nimble post Manasse Itete, who hasn’t played yet this season, Davis will command a lion’s share of the attention.

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Freshman Rashod Cotton’s rapid maturation continued Thursday evening during the semifinal round of the 22nd annual Holiday Hoop Classic. The 6-foot point guard was held scoreless in the first half of Modesto Christian’s 48-39 victory over Campolindo but sent the Crusaders (7-4) surging into the final with two fourth-quarter 3s.

Modesto Christian senior Jalen Brown (0) elevates for two of his eight points during a semifinal win at the Holiday Hoop Classic on Thursday, Dec. 29, 2022. (Diego Hernandez)

His last proved to be the dagger – a corner trey with under 5 minutes left.

Modesto Christian, the defending champion, will play Clovis West, unbeaten and perennially one of the Central Section’s best, at 7:45 p.m. at Anderson Gymnasium.

Cotton finished with 11 points, all in the second half. In the last three games, Cotton has totaled 36 points, proving to be a dependable second or third scoring option after Davis (12 points) and senior Jalen Brown (eight points).

“He hit a big shot today,” Modesto Christian coach Brice Fantazia said. “Freshman don’t produce or come along without leadership. BJ is going to get everybody’s best defender; he’s the No. 1 guy on the scouting report. He’s got to trust the freshman … and that’s what he’s doing. Credit to BJ and Jalen.”

Thursday’s game was a rematch of last year’s CIF State Northern California Open Division final won by Modesto Christian. Much has changed about both teams, including this week’s stunning news of Phillips’ transfer, but the result was the same.

“We know all about Campolindo after playing them in the NorCal championship last year,” Fantazia said. “Tomorrow will probably be a different style of game, but we have to do what we do and hope it’s enough to come out on top.”

Modesto Christian guard Jeremiah Bernard drives the baseline during the Crusaders' win on Thursday, Dec. 29, 2022, during the semifinal of the Holiday Hoop Classic. (Diego Hernandez)

On Thursday, Modesto Christian built a 23-18 lead at the intermission and then extended that cushion to 11 heading into the fourth, 36-25. Davis shouldered the scoring load early, netting 10 of his team-high 12 points in the first half.

Led by a balanced attack, the Crusaders outscored Campolindo 13-7 to start the second half. Cotton had five points during the third-quarter spurt and Zeke Davis tallied four.

Seven of the Crusaders’ nine players scored, and the Modesto Christian won without making a single free throw (0-3).

Fantazia relishes matchups like this at the Holiday Hoop Classic and the other early-season tournaments they attend. The playoff atmospheres provide a test and help him gauge his team’s leadership, depth, and resolve. Through two tournaments – the Holiday Hoop Classic and last week’s Capital City Classic in Oregon -- Fantazia is impressed with his team’s personality.

“In a tournament, we’re scouting and treating it like a playoff game,” Fantazia said. “It gives the young kids we have on the court, the freshmen and sophomores, it gives them the experience. The juniors and seniors know what I expect, what I want. But it helps the young guys learn that atmosphere – scouting and stuff like that.”

The atmosphere should reach a new high on Friday evening. Clovis West is unbeaten in 17 games this season and ranked No. 5 in California and No. 1 in Northern California, according to MaxPreps.

For all of the scouting that takes place, Fantazia knows this about Modesto Christian’s formula for success: “For us, defending and rebounding and trusting each other, playing unselfish, if we do all of that, we think we can play with anybody.”