Senior Walter Graves will need to be on his game during the playoffs to reach the championship game. Graves is 6-foot-6 and can rebound, dunk and shoot from the outside. (Christian Ortuno/Clovis Roundup)
By Paul Meadors | Sports Editor
The Clovis West boys team fell short in its quest for a TRAC title, always a goal for every team, but now teams are entering the phase of the season that matters most – playoffs.
The Golden Eagles went 8-2 in league and actually controlled their own destiny but lost at home to eventual champion Central (17-6, 9-1) 66-64 on Feb. 3, a game that saw Clovis West make only 26 of 72 shots from the field, 4-21 from 3-point land and 8 of 16 from the free-throw line.
Nevertheless, the No. 1 goal, the trophy everyone chases is still attainable – a Central Section championship.
“We play to win it all,” said Clovis West coach Vance Walberg about the team’s goals. ”Unfortunately there’s a lot of teams that have the same goal as well, but that’s what we want from the start of the year, a chance to play for a Valley title.”
A case could be made for three teams as the No. 1 seed with Central, Clovis West and Bakersfield. Central earned the No. 1 seed, Clovis West (25-3) the No. 2 and Bakersfield (19-10, 10-0) the three. The top two seeds have home court advantage throughout the playoffs.
Every Division I coach ranked all 13 teams as a criteria with Central receiving seven No. 1 votes and Clovis West four. Bakersfield received two No. 1 votes from themselves and fellow Kern County school Centennial. Adding to the mix is the fact that Clovis West beat Bakersfield 98-91 in overtime on Dec. 15. But the next day the Drillers beat Central 79-77.
So, what does this mean? Well, it’s that anybody can beat anybody and that the parity runs deep.
“You can play this Valley playoffs three different times and have three different winners,” added Walberg. “It’s that balanced.”
Clovis North, who won a share of the TRAC last season before losing to Central in the Valley title game, received the No. 5 seed, Buchanan No. 6, Clovis East the No. 8 and Clovis No. 12.
Clovis West was led all season by the stellar play of senior 6-foot guard Adrian Antunez and his 24 points per game. Antunez, a Fresno Pacific commit, said his goal since his freshman year has been to win a Valley championship.
“Our team mentality is basically just win and play for my fellow seniors,” said Antunez, whose senior classmates include Walter Graves, Koby Dickerson, Travis Turney and Cody Freeman. “Getting the No. 2 seed doesn’t change how hard we work or what we do, we just continue to play our game. That motivates our whole team because nobody on our team wants to let another teammate down.”
Clovis West has a bye in the first round and awaits the winner of Bullard and Edison, two teams well familiar with each other and both with plenty of playoff experience. The second round of the bracket is scheduled for Feb. 24 and the finals at Selland Arena on March 4.
Walberg knows how tough it is to win a Valley title and it looking for others to step up besides Antunez and the 6-foot-6, athletic Graves.
“If all it is is Adrian and Walter we’re not going to get where we want to get to,” said Walberg. “We’re going to need the rest of the guys to chip in and do their part. Whether it’s the defensive end or getting another offensive rebounds or knocking down a three when they’re open.”
The Golden Eagles are hoping for the return of junior Adrian Martinez, the Cal-Berkeley football commit at quarterback who sprained his foot in the Central loss and has sat out the last two games of league, a 64-59 win at Clovis East and an 88-50 home win against Clovis. Walberg says Martinez give the Eagles “another dimension” with his athletic ability and poise.
And for Walberg, who led the Hustin’ Eagles in 1990-2002 to 11 league titles and 8 Central Section titles before moving on to college basketball and the NBA, the love of the coaching the game of basketball still gets his heart pumping.
“When you get to this time of the season, for me it doesn’t matter if it’s high school, NBA, college, every time you step on the floor for a game my juices get flowing,” the 55-year old coach said.
“It’s going to be fun and exciting, it really is.”
FINAL TRAC BOYS
Clovis West 8-2
Clovis North 6-4
Clovis East 2-8