By Paul Meadors, Sports Editor
Young? Check. Talented? Check. A crop of seniors who are ready to let it rip on the court? You betcha. From top to bottom this year looks to be one of the TRAC’s better seasons in recent memory. In fact, with a sparkling combined record of 61-27, one could argue that there’s a good chance the Division 1 Central Section champions will come from this league. The last Valley champion to come from the TRAC was Clovis East in 2010, so it’s time.
Likewise, there are stories to be told and rivalries to be played out during the grueling 10-game season. In short, the TRAC has something for everyone on any given Wednesday and Friday. Consider the following:
Buchanan and Wake Forrest commit Donovan Mitchell is must-see basketball. The 6’9” McDonald’s All-American candidate can do it all on the court with flash and flare.
Clovis West boasts a young, explosive backcourt with the Adrians: Sophomore Martinez and junior Antunez. Check out the school on the west side to see these athletes in action.
Clovis North is primed for a big season with the senior one-two punch of Jonah Brown and Jaylon Johnson. The up-tempo and fun-to-watch Broncos are a major contender for a TRAC and Valley title.
Clovis East plays with intensity, grit and fundamentals that are a recipe for success. Senior guard Trey Semien is worth the price of admission alone.
Want to see tough, hard-nosed defense and executed set plays on offense? Then go check out a Clovis High game this season. The team in blue and gold will not disappoint.
Believe it or not, Central might be the most talented team of all which is a scary thought. The biggest player in the TRAC is 6’7” 210 pound transfer Chris Seeley.
Before we get into breaking down each team, here are six burning questions that will be answered during the course of the TRAC season.
- Can Clovis West’s young core of talent continue to impress and rise to the top?
- Will Clovis East find consistency and execute on both ends of the court?
- Can Clovis North’s relentless pressure and fast pace continue to wear opponents down?
- Will the talented 11-2 Central team sustain maximum effort through 10 games?
- Can Clovis High win with team defense and a ball-controlled offense?
- Will Buchanan be steady and find their groove in all facets of the game?
Coach Tom Orlich (14th season at Clovis West)
Players to watch: G Adrian Antunez, JR; G Adrian Martinez, SO; C Walter Graves III, JR
Team strengths: Tough man-to-man defense, young, competitive, court awareness.
Pre-TRAC temperature: Medium-hot. The Eagles front-loaded their schedule with out-of-section tournaments and won the Tustin Classic down south behind Walter Graves’ last-second basket. They went 3-1 in the Clovis West Nike Invitational and in the Ocean View Tournament of Champions, and lost a head-scratcher to a Bullard squad 59-54 on Jan. 6.
The nitty-gritty: Defending TRAC champions graduated four starters last season and questions abounded if this year’s young team could step up and compete. The answer, and a bit of a surprise, is yes. Junior Adrian Martinez, the team’s only returning starter, is a tough-nosed player who can score inside and attacks the rim fearlessly. Sophomore Adrian Martinez, as a freshman on varsity last season, has responded very well with an increase in workload and can score, rebound and plays very good defense. Both Antunez and Martinez were named to two all-tournament teams. This young unit is still learning to play with each other but when they do, watch out. Walter Graves III has shown flashes of talent but will need to play big to compete in the rugged TRAC.
Coach Adrian Wiggins (3rd season at Clovis East)
Players to watch: G Trey Semien, SR; G Spencer Matthes, JR; G Brandon Recek, SO
Strengths: Skilled offensive sets, good three point shooters, help defense, team chemistry.
Pre-TRAC temperature: Simmering–Hot. They played well in the Legacy Tip-Off Classic in Las Vegas, losing to Nevada’s No. 1 team in the championship. They went 2-2 in the Santa Margarita Christmas Classic and placed third in the Clovis Elks.
The nitty-gritty: Seems to be on the verge of being a very good team evidenced by beating Immanuel of Reedley, which many consider to be the top team in the Central Section, in an exciting 92-90 in triple overtime on Jan. 4, but they gave the momentum back by losing to Edison by a point two days later. Senior guard Trey Semien, who scored an amazing 47 points against Immanuel, is probably the best athlete in the TRAC (all-league QB as well) and can score in a variety of ways. Emerging sophomore Brandon Recek at 6’5” can create match-up problems for opponents and Spencer Matthes is an excellent shooter. Team defense is a strength, but tough rebounds and inside presence is an issue as senior center Laval Smith has been ruled illegible this season.
Coach Tony Amundsen (3rd season at Clovis North)
Players to watch: F Jonah Brown, SR; G Jahvon Johnson, SR, F Elijah Straughter, JR; F Ben Avera, JR
Team strengths: Full court pressure, chemistry, deep rotation, ability to score.
Pre-TRAC temperature: Hot. They placed third in their own Valley Children’s Hospital Tournament, and won the Pleasant Valley Invitational Tournament and the Chris Huber Tournament up in northern California.
The nitty-gritty: The pieces are in place for a TRAC title with seniors Jonah Brown and Jahvon Johnson leading the way. Both can score, both can shoot, and both are in the third year of coach Tony Amundsen’s program, a system where players have the offensive freedom to thrive. Granted, the team is not all Brown and Johnson, as skilled shooter Ben Avera and swing man Elijah Straughter provide excellent support. Straughter, a 6’5” swing man, is returning slowly from an early season knee injury and when healthy is a great rebounder and shot blocker.
Coach Pat Geil (2nd season at Buchanan)
Players to watch: F Donovan Mitchell, SR; G Tyree Leggett, JR; C Spencer Heimerdinger SO
Team strengths: Team defense, size, controlling game tempo, inside-out offense game.
Pre-TRAC temperature: Medium. The Bears have won their last four games after some early season consistency issues. They went 2-2 in the tough Modesto Christian Holiday Hoops Classic and won the consolation brackets at the HIT.
The nitty-gritty: Donovan Mitchell is likely the most talented player in the Central Section and this season he’s putting it all together. The athletic 6’9” swing player who is attending Wake Forrest can do it all – shoot, score, pass, and rebound and the Bears will need every aspect of his game to compete for a TRAC title. Junior guard Tyree Leggett is gifted as well but is coming off a minor knee injury and sophomore center 6’5” Spencer Heimerdinger has a great set of offensive skills. Their inside-out game is one of the best in the TRAC.
Coach Wil Hooker (1st season at Clovis)
Players to watch: G Coltin Velasquez, SR; G J.J., Wills SR; G Anthony Martinez, JR
Team strengths: Team defense, low turnover rate, quality ball movement.
Pre-TRAC temperature: Medium. They stayed in the Central Section for their pre-season games, including the Hoover Invitational Tournament and their own Clovis Elks, in which they placed third. After losing five of their first six games, they’ve won six of their last nine. Their season turned around in the opening round of the HIT when sophomore Jaylen Wills converted a buzzer-beating layup to beat Roosevelt.
The nitty-gritty: Under first year coach Wil Hooker, no stranger to the Valley (second leading scorer in Fresno State Bulldogs history and former coach at San Joaquin Memorial), the Cougars are relying on defense and smart basketball to win games. With any new coach it takes a while to adjust and keeping games in the 50s is where they like it to stay competitive. Seniors Coltin Velasquez and J.J. Wills, star receivers on the football team that went 11-2, are athletic and have played together since 8th grade. Contributions from sophomores Cooper Huyck and Anthony Martinez are key for a successful league season. The team needs Huyck to play tough inside and Martinez to shoot the ball extremely well.
Coach Greg Streets (1st season at Central)
Players to watch: G Cash Williams, SO; Jaylon Johnson, JR; F Chris Seeley SR
Team strengths: Athletic, talent, scoring ability, size, speed.
Pre-TRAC temperature: Hot. They won the Harding Invitational Tournament in Morro Bay, went 4-0 in the Clovis West Nike Invitational and placed third in the Max Preps Holiday Classic in Palm Springs. They lost to a talented Ridgeview team for only their second defeat of the season on Jan. 8.
The nitty-gritty: After a blistering start to the season, the Grizzlies are the biggest question mark entering the TRAC as their first 12 games of the season were out of the section – but there’s no questioning their talent. Their first section game was a home 80-59 loss to undefeated Ridgeview (15-0) on Jan. 8. Christmas came early for the Grizzlies when 6’7” 210 pound Chris Seeley, an athletic power forward, landed in their laps after moving from southern California. Sophomores Cash Williams and Cam’ron Wilson, who both played varsity as freshmen, are beyond their years on the court and Jaylon Johnson is a speedy guard who has the ability to score.
The Meadors Watchful Eight
Adrian Antunez Clovis West
Adrian Martinez Clovis West
Trey Semien Clovis East
Jonah Brown Clovis North
Jahvon Johnson Clovis North
Donovan Mitchell Buchanan
Chris Seeley Central
Cash Williams Central