Boys of the hardwood: A breakdown of TRAC basketball

Senior Brandon Recek of Clovis West is the team’s top scorer, over 20 per game, and one of the players to watch this season for the 17-2 Golden Eagles. (Ron Itskoff/Contributed)

There’s no lack of entertainment every Tuesday and Friday night at a gym near you – that’s where you’ll find six schools battling it out for the boys’ TRAC supremacy on the hardwood.

Heading into league on Jan. 12, conventional thinking would have Clovis West and Central as the favorites. After all, the Golden Eagles are battle tested and sit at 17-2 on the season. Central, the back-to-back Valley champion, returns two four-year varsity players and is 12-3. They’ve already played each other too, Clovis West winning Round 1, 81-66, at the CW Nike Invitational Tournament.

While Clovis West and Central will certainly have targets on their back, Buchanan, Clovis North, Clovis East and Clovis all have excellent coaches and incorporate a fun brand of basketball. No team in the TRAC has a losing record.

Also, it should be noted that a team from Clovis Unified has not won a CIF Central Section Division I title since 2009 when Clovis East beat Buchanan 71-52. If fact, the Tim Amundsen-led Timberwolves won three of four starting in 2007 but none since. Perhaps this is the year for a Clovis team to return to glory?

Below is a look at the players to watch, how teams have fared before league and a breakdown of each team. Let’s watch the teams settle it on the court.

Clovis West (17-2)

Coach: Vance Walberg (14th season overall at Clovis West)

Players to watch: Brandon Recek, SR; Cole Anderson, FR; Nick Coleman, SR; Josiah De La Cerda, SR; Dante Chachere, JR

Non-league action: The Golden Eagles have played a tough schedule, winning two tournaments while placing third in two others. They won their first tournament of year at the NorCal Tip-Off in Rocklin before losing their first game at the buzzer to San Marcos in the Simi Valley Classic on Dec. 9. They hosted the 16-team Nike Invitational from Dec. 12-16, beating San Joaquin Memorial in the semis and Central 81-66 in the championship game. They placed third at the Modesto Christian Tournament, losing to SJM, 71-66, in a rematch in the semis.

What’s their story? It’s Year 2 of the return of Vance Walberg and Clovis West is getting back that old Hustlin’ Golden Eagles spirit. Fast-paced, swarming defense, taking charges, shooting threes and getting to the rim is their game – and it’s certainly fun to watch. The 2017-18 version is lead by senior transfer Brandon Recek, who sat out all last season after playing at Clovis East and freshman sensation Cole Anderson, who has three college offers including Fresno State and San Diego State. Both are excellent shooters and know what to do when they have the ball. Nick Coleman is a defensive stopper and Dante Chachere, the starting quarterback on the football team, is progressing nicely into a scoring option. Big men Josiah De La Cerda and Eseosa Ogbeide provide energy on the defensive end and have improved on the offensive end.

Central (12-3)

Coach: Greg Streets (3rd season)

Players to watch: Cam’ron Wilson, SR; Cashemin Williams, SR; Uriah Carter, SR

Non-league action: Two of the Grizzlies three losses (against 12 wins) are to Central Section opponents in the Clovis West Nike Invitational, 73-70 to Bullard and 81-66 to Clovis West in the championship game, a game they were down 46-19 at half. However, they’ve had little trouble in other game except for a 66-62 loss to San Leandro. They won the Rancho Mirage Holiday Invitational.

What’s their story? Central is the two-time defending Division I champ, beating Clovis North in 2016 and Bakersfield in 2017, and this year is a favorite to make it to Selland Area again. Two of the main reasons are seniors Cashemin “Cash” Williams (18 points per game) and Cam’ron Wilson (27 points per game) who have played major roles on both title teams. Williams is a left-handed point guard who can drive and score or dish with authority and Wilson is a pure and athletic scorer, and can hurt you behind the arc and dunk just as well. The whole team is athletic.

Buchanan’s 6-foot-9 Spencer Heimerdinger, a senior and four-year varsity player, will be a force to reckon with during league play. (An Eye For It All Photography)

Buchanan (9-9)

Coach: Pat Geil (4th year)

Players to watch: Spencer Heimerdinger, SR; Jonah Crumpton-Murray, JR; Charlie Barnes, SO

Non-league action: It was a mixed bag for Buchanan during the non-league portion of the season, hanging around in games but lacking the ability to put teams away and losing the close ones. For instance, the Bears have 1, 2, 3, and 5 point losses on the season – all games in tournaments – where they were in position to at least win the game. If a shot here or there falls, then their 9-9 record could look different.

What’s their story? The Bears have one of the best post players in the Central Section in 6-foot-9 Spencer Heimerdinger, a four-year varsity player and a true big man with good hands and great touch around the basket. He’s a force defensively too. College prospect and junior Jonah Crumpton-Murray is a left-hand slasher with good three-point range and, at 6-foot-5, is a difficult matchup for anyone. However, – they’ll need to find a way to make shots and rebound from their teammates.  

Clovis North (9-8)

Coach: Tony Amundsen (5th year at Clovis North)

Players to watch: Terri Miller, SO; Naja Nagra, SR; Steven Perry, JR

Non-league action: The season didn’t get off to a great start for Clovis North. The Broncos lost three of their first four games at home in their own Valley Children’s Tip-Off Invitational, but since then they’ve gone 8-4, including the consolation championship at the Clash on the Coast tournament in Oxnard. They took on Cal-Hi Sports No. 10 team Modesto Christian at home on Jan. 4 and was only down two points at halftime before losing 102-88.

What’s their story? The Broncos and coach Tony Amundsen run a similar style made famous by Vance Walberg called the “dribble-drive,” an offense that thrives on layups, three pointers and ability to get to the rim and make free throws. In fact, Walberg coached Amundsen (and brother Tim, the coach at Bullard) at Newark Memorial in the Bay Area in the 1980s. The Broncos have a big man and a load for the opposition to guard in sophomore transfer Terri Miller, a 6-foot-6 left-hander who can finish around the basket. However, consistent scoring from others has been tough to come by. Rajan Nagra, a senior, can get hot at any time and is deadly from three-point range. Steven Perry has some guard skills and the team will need the strong play of injured 6-foot-4 Jackson Baker, who can give the team a little bit of everything on the court.

Clovis East (9-6)

Coach: Adrian Wiggins (5th year at Clovis East)

Players to watch: Shawno Roberts, JR; Jermal Pittman, SO; Anthony Vallin, JR

Non-league action: The Timberwolves showed just enough during tournaments in non-league to pose a threat every game in the TRAC. In the Clovis Elks Tournament, they lost to eventual champion Dublin and settled for third place when they beat Clovis 60-51. The hung tough with San Joaquin Memorial, who has split with Clovis West, in the first half on Jan. 5 before the Panthers poured it on in the second half to win 70-52.  

What’s their story? You know what you’ll get with an Adrian Wiggins-coached team: hard-nosed players who aren’t afraid to take charges on the defensive end and players who can attack the basket and kick out for threes, similar to Clovis North and Clovis West. They have a young team this season led by juniors Shawno Roberts and Anthony Vallin, who the T-Wolves will rely on to score. Jermal Pittman, a sophomore, has a ton of potential and senior Garrett Wamhoff at 6-foot-4 is a good rebounder and can finish at the rim. Sophomore guard Will Wiggins (coach’s son) and Tyler Pacheco are receiving significant minutes.

Clovis High guard Anthony Martinez is averaging 22 points per game this year for the surprising Cougars (12-4). Clovis has not won a league game since 2015 and looks to break that unwanted streak. (Contributed)

Clovis (12-4)

Coach: Cory Fischer (1st year)

Players to watch: Anthony Martinez, SR; Caleb Malalis, SR; Cooper Huyck, SR; Jalen Wills, SR

Non-league action: You knew the season would be much improved after the Cougars won seven of their first games this season, quite a turnaround from last year. They lost in the semifinals of the Holiday Invitational Tournament to Sanger 65-62 after beating Immanuel 90-74, Lemoore 91-74 and then Washington Union 84-54 for third place. They lost to Clovis East, 60-51, in the final game of the Clovis Elk Tournament.

What’s their story? Let’s be honest, there wasn’t much to expect from Clovis this year. After all, the Cougars went 10-19 and 12-18 the past two years with back-to-back 0-10 league records. But, after former coach Wil Hooker resigned a week before practice was set to start, there has been a change in Cougarland under new coach Cory Fischer. In short, he lets let his horses run and and they’ve come out of the stable and are now averaging 72 points per game, and only giving up 58. Senior guard Anthony Martinez is averaging over 22 points and three steals a game and is a top player in the TRAC. Senior guard Caleb Malalis is a fast guard with good handles, Cooper Huyck is a rebounder who averages 10 points and Jalen Wills is an all-everything player. This team is much improved.

TRAC first round schedule

Jan. 12
Clovis West at Central
Buchanan at Clovis
Clovis North at Clovis East

Jan. 16
Clovis West at Buchanan
Central at Clovis North
Clovis East at Clovis

Jan. 19
Clovis East at Clovis West
Buchanan at Central
Clovis at Clovis North

Jan. 23
Clovis North at Clovis West
Buchanan at Clovis East
Clovis at Central

Jan. 26
Clovis West at Clovis
Clovis North at Buchanan
Central at Clovis East

Paul Meadors
Paul Meadors is a man of many talents. He is a elementary school teacher, Junior High athletic director, and basketball coach in Traver, CA, in addition to serving as the Sports Editor for the Clovis Roundup. He is also the author of the humorous book “Letters to eBay,” and he has recorded a piano album of his own compositions titled “Surviving the Storm.” He lives in Fresno with wife Lori and daughters Georgie, Alex and Ruthie.