The Clovis West gym from Dec. 12-16 was reminiscent of the golden age of Golden Eagle basketball: the long lines to get into the game, the frenzied fans packing the stands, those Hustlin’ Eagles fighting tooth and nail for rebounds and loose balls, swishing threes and frustrating opponents like last-minute holiday shoppers.
And what a show Clovis West put on at its own Nike Invitational as the Golden Eagles went 4-0 over a five day period, culminated by a dominating 81-66 win over rival Central in the championship game led by tournament MVP Brandon Recek’s 27 points and freshman Cole Anderson’s 14.
Clovis West (12-1) bolted to a 45-16 halftime lead over the two-time defending Valley champion Grizzlies (6-2) with a hard-nose and smothering defense leading to fast break points, a fixture under coach Vance Walberg during his first stint at Clovis West from 1990-2002 when they won six Valley titles, and a fixture now in Year 2 of Walberg’s return.
“First half we did a lot of good things,” Walberg said, hired during the summer of 2016 after stints at Fresno City College, Pepperdine, University of Massachusetts, and four seasons as an NBA assistant. “I think we kind of shocked them, we executed really well and got some easy buckets. They didn’t shoot the ball really well which helped us and defensively we played really well – that’s the best we’ve rebounded defensively all year.”
Clovis West started the second quarter with a bang when Eseosa “Sosa” Ogbeide converted consecutive layups, then a three-pointer from both Anderson and Fernando Guardado – and poof – a 27-9 lead en route to the 45-16 halftime shellacking. In fact, eight players scored in the half for the Golden Eagles.
However, the second half was a different story as Central outscored Clovis West 50-26 behind senior standouts Cash Williams and Camron Williams, who scored 25 and 26, respectively, in the game. However, the closest they got was within 12 points with 1:03 left in the game.
“The second half was more of just hanging on,” Walberg said. “[I’m] not pleased with that and that’s something we have to work on.”
Recek, the tall and lanky sharpshooter who sat out all last year after transferring from Clovis East, scored 15 of his 27 points in the fourth quarter, hitting all seven of his free throws. Central’s Wilson scored 16 in the quarter, but it was a case of too little too late.
“He can put the ball in the hole, he’s got a great gift,” Walberg said of Recek who averaged 23 points in four games. “We are going to ride him – we have two very talented shooters.”
The other sharpshooter Walberg is referring to is Anderson, who averaged 15 points a game in the tournament. Also, in the span of four days the 6-foot-2 freshman sensation received scholarship offers from Fresno State, University of San Francisco and San Diego State.
Josiah de la Cerda, a 6-foot-7 emerging senior, scored 10 points in the championship game and earned all-tournament honors.
“It was awesome, it feels great,” Recek said after the game. “We are playing as a team and all the little stuff matters. Coach [Walberg] cherishes the little things.”
Those little things were certainly evident in the 16-team event that saw Clovis West beat Independance 91-52 and Beyer 72-59 in pool play, then beat Cal-Hi Sports’ No. 19 team San Joaquin Memorial 79-73 in the semi-finals. The Panthers feature Jalen Green, the No. 1 rated guard in the nation in the class of 2020, who scored 37 in the game.
“It was a good tournament but it doesn’t mean much,” Walberg said. “But it does in one aspect – I like how we are coming together where before I thought we were a little more fragmented. We are getting close.”