Modesto Christian junior guard BJ Davis walks the ball up the floor during an 85-41 victory over Beyer in the first round of the 21st annual Holiday Hoop Classic on Monday, Dec. 27, 2021. (Kris Zweigle)

Welcome home, Crusaders: MC boys debut selfless, potent style for home fans

James Burns

SALIDA — The Modesto Christian boys basketball team had gone 683 days without a home game in front of fans, but it took less than 20 minutes to remind a near packed gymnasium of its excellence.

A  19-0 spurt to start the second quarter removed all of the suspense from Monday's showcase game at the 21st annual Holiday Hoop Classic. Four players scored in double figures for the Crusaders in an 85-41 victory over Beyer. 

"We've worked on a lot of stuff the last two weeks and the boys did all the things we've worked on," Modesto Christian coach Brice Fantazia said. "We really wanted to share the basketball, not care who scores and play for each other. When we play for each other we're dynamic."

Modesto Christian's BJ Davis was named the American Sports Construction Player of the Game after scoring 19 points and blitzing Beyer with his speed. (Kris Zweigle)

Modesto Christian (7-1), seeking its first Holiday Hoop title since 2015, advances in the winner's bracket and will face Clovis East, which pulled away from Gregori in the nightcap. Beyer will face Gregori in the loser's bracket.

Before Monday's Holiday Hoop opener, Modesto Christian's last home game in front of fans was Feb. 12, 2020, a 23-month stretch prolonged by the pandemic and a demanding road schedule to start this season.

In the days leading up to the Holiday Hoop Classic, Modesto Christian coach Brice Fantazia spoke of his team's excitement for a home game. The tournament committee even scheduled an old Modesto Metro Conference rival, Kyle McKim's Beyer High Patriots, to ratchet up the intrigue and interest.

For a few minutes, Beyer looked like a worthy competitor, knocking down three 3-pointers to force Fantazia into an early timeout. After that, though, Modesto Christian put all of its weapons on display, forcing the game into a running-clock finish.

Ty Virgil, a lanky, left-handed transfer, feathered home two 3-pointers from the corner. Jamari Phillips, a highly-touted sophomore and national recruit, showed limitless range. Barrel-chested forward Manasse Itete proved too powerful in the post. And BJ Davis zipped all over the court, converting shots from near and far. The fast-rising prospect highlighted a first-half blitz by finishing a pass off the backboard from Virgil with a two-handed flush.

Too fast. Too long. 

Too accurate. Too strong.

As has been the case for the last two seasons, Modesto Christian, a four-time champion at the Holiday Hoop, overwhelmed its opposition. Modesto Christian led 28-10 after one quarter , scored the first 19 points of the second quarter and emptied its bench during the fourth.

Fantazia was pleased with the ball movement and camaraderie. Phillips led the way with 22 points, Virgil finished with 15, Itete chipped in 11 and eight others scored in the Crusaders' seventh win in eight games. 

"We've talked about not getting good shots, but getting great shots," Fantazia said. "When you do that you can compete with anybody in the country, and we have the talent to compete with anybody in the country."

Davis, with a quick first step, finesse from range and surprising strength in the post, scored 19 in a variety of ways. He spoke of a confidence that comes from the Crusaders' ball movement. 

"When you know you're going to touch the ball, everyone is going to play better," he said. "The more the ball moves, the more the defense moves , and it allows for our playmakers to be in situations to create for us and create for the team."

Though his ledger is full of big games against stronger competition, Davis admitted to being excited for Monday's opener against Beyer. His Holiday Hoop debut was also his introduction to Modesto Christian and regional basketball fans. His first season at Modesto Christian was played in anonymity as games were contested in closed gyms because of COVID protocols.

The Crusaders went 15-0 during the shortened spring season.

"To me, it meant a lot," said Davis, who holds offers from Montana, San Jose State and Hawaii. "Last year was a COVID year and people weren't really allowed at games. This was my first real home high school game. It was a big opportunity and a great environment overall. ... I had to keep the energy controlled."