SALIDA — It's not in a coach or player's best interest to look down the road, peeking in on potential match-ups or examining what-ifs, but Manteca High boys basketball coach Brett Lewis can see Goliath ahead.
And Lewis knows this about the lurking giant: State-ranked Modesto Christian wants a piece of the Buffaloes, a former CIF State champion, just as bad as Manteca wants to lock horns with the section's all-time winningest program.
That the two have been positioned on the same side of the bracket at the 19th annual Holiday Hoop Classic, an elite holiday tournament hosted by the Crusaders, is no coincidence, Lewis says.
Manteca opens against Centennial of Bakersfield, a traditional Central Section heavyweight, while Modesto Christian has hand-picked its opener — former Trans-Valley League foe Ripon.
A potential quarterfinal meeting looms ... as does a lucrative gate.
"They put us there for a couple of reasons," Lewis said, "and we like that. We like playing them. The schedule they play only benefits us, so playing them is something we look forward to. I know (Modesto Christian coach Brice Fantazia) respects our program, and that's part of the reason why they want to play us. They also know it will pack their gym."
First things first.
Wednesday's opening round will feature eight games, blending the best of the Central Valley and Bay Area. Here's a look at each of Wednesday's first round games:
In a meeting of former TVL rivals, Modesto Christian will have the decided edge in the opener. The Crusaders rank among the state's elite programs, while the Indians, a two-time defending TVL champion, have struggled out the gate. The Indians snapped a six-game losing streak with a 66-45 victory over Livingston in their TVL opener. Ripon is led by 6-foot-8 center Vincent Olmo, a versatile big man who can shoot the 3-ball, and junior Troy Brogan, who is averaging 9 points and 5.5 rebounds. The Crusaders captured the Clovis West Nike Invitational and then lost an overtime thriller to Northern California No. 1 Salesian on Saturday evening, 61-56, at San Jose's Valley Christian High School. Modesto Christian played that game without UC Davis-bound senior Aaron Murphy, who stayed home with the flu.
Beyer has won four of its last five games and is coming off a 10th place finish at the inaugural Mark Gallo Invitational at Central Catholic High School. The Patriots are no stranger to tournament success under coach Kyle McKim. Beyer is 5-2 in tournaments this season, but McKim understands the Holiday Hoop Classic will challenge his team in ways most December draws cannot. "It's always a huge challenge," he said. "They get the best of the best. Modesto Christian's tournament is as good as you can ask for. All four games you'll play there, you know you're going to have a battle every single time." Foothill promises to be one of the most talented teams in the fold. Sophomore Jaden Phillips leads Foothill in scoring, averaging nearly 19 points per game, while senior Warren Stingley (11.1 rebounds) is a terror on the glass. Edward "Squid" Turner is a 6-foot-9 shot blocker and widely regarded as the best rim protector in the Central Section.
Five players score in double figures for the run-and-gun Trojans, who have topped 100 points in regulation at least three times, according to results on MaxPreps: DJ Balanon (15.1), Matthew Truax (14), Billy Whitting (12.3), George Papadopulous (11.9), and Angelo Del Campo (11.1). This first-round match-up will be a true battle of wills. Campolindo is giving up 53 points per game. Three players shoulder the scoring load for the Cougars, including the Mahaney boys: freshman Aidan (18.0) and junior Carter Mahaney (13.2) combine for 31 points per game. Senior David Ahazie is netting 17.7 points.
The Tigers have their hands full with Clovis West, the top-ranked Division I program in the Central Section. Clovis West features one of the top talents in the state and a Chuck Hayes Basketball alumnus, sophomore Cole Anderson. The Golden Eagles have won 14 of their 15 games, including the NorCal Tip-Off Tournament in Rocklin and the Simi Valley Tournament. Clovis West was beaten by Modesto Christian in the final of its Nike Invitational, denying the Golden Eagles a third trophy. Revenge will be on Clovis West's mind in Salida.
Vanden carried a five-game winning streak into the final night of the Gaucho Holiday Classic. The Vikings' run included a 10-point victory over Beyer at the Mark Gallo Invitational. Physically, Vanden presents a challenge with five players 6-foot-4 or taller, the tallest of which is 6-6 freshman Takai Emerson-Hardy. Bakersfield Christian is the top Division IV team in the Central Section, according to ThePagMeter.com. The Eagles are led by senior point guard Kadar Waller, who spent his summer touring the country with the Compton Magic. Waller recently netted 21 points as Bakersfield Christian topped rival Garces Memorial of Bakersfield.
Two of the top players in the southern half of the Sac-Joaquin Section will battle for the spotlight. Weston Ranch has won nine of its first 10 games and is a favorite in the Valley Oak League. The Cougars are led by junior Gavin Wilburn, an Oakland Soldiers prospect. Wilburn is averaging 10.7 points, 6.7 rebounds and 3.1 assists. Weston Ranch also boasts sophomore Donjae' Lindsey, the team's leading scorer at 15.4 points, and Mi'Son Coilton, who averages 10.8. Tracy is led by Pacific-bound senior Isaiah Hawthorne, a 6-foot-7 small forward and returning all-tournament selection. Hawthorne is listed as a three-star recruit by 247Sports.
To say the Bulldogs face a tall task would be an understatement. Junior center Dishon Jackson dominates the floor for St. Patrick-St. Vincent. Jackson is a 6-foot-10, 235-pound monster. The four-star prospect holds offers from Arizona, California and Nevada. Turlock will counter with 6-foot-8 center Everett Johnson, a Cal football commit, and a balanced scoring attack led by Holiday Hoop veteran Cameran Sherwood (13.8 points) and Cole Carrigg (team-high 14.5 points).
The Buffaloes have surged to nine wins in their first 11 games behind the inspired play of senior Jorge Cedano, a fourth-year varsity player. Cedano averaged nearly a triple-double in three games earlier this week before hitting a road block in a loss to St. Mary's of Stockton. The Buffaloes surrendered a 12-point lead to the Rams, who did a masterful job on Cedano. He was held to nine points, three assists and just one rebound. Lewis said the Buffaloes are running on fumes after a busy December, but hope to close the 2018 calendar year on a high.
"There's no rest," Lewis said. "Hopefully, we'll be ready to go. We really want to get a win, so we can play Modesto Christian in that second round game. It would be nice for our strength of schedule. … The strength of schedule is something I've tried to do since I've been at Manteca. You're not getting better unless you're playing teams better than you. You want to face teams that make you play, that make you prepare."
Follow James Burns on Twitter @jburns1980, or email him at email@example.com.