After Terri Miller knocked in the game-winning layup over Clovis West on Dec. 14 in the championship game of the Clovis West Nike Invitational, the Clovis North center was not satisfied with celebrating the moment.
He was already looking forward to the next matchup with the Golden Eagles.
“When we play Clovis West, we want to show up and kill them,” Miller said. “You can quote me on that. We want them bad.”
Such is life in the TRAC, perhaps the most competitive boys basketball league in the Central Section. This season, the TRAC includes three legitimate Valley title contenders and two more gritty squads that will be tough outs in playoffs. Make no mistake about it: every league basketball game will be contentious, and wins won’t come easy against any team.
This is the time of year every team plays for. Just ask Clovis coach – and former Clovis West player – Jonathan Heinz.
“The whole purpose of the preseason is to get better and gain experience headed into league play, because that’s where we want to be good,” Heinz said. “We want to be our best in February and March.”
Each team in the TRAC has gone through “preseason”, where many played out-of-town tournaments against talented competition from across the state. During this time, the Clovis Roundup scouted each squad’s performance, their best player, and X-factors to look for in each team’s pursuit of a league title, which starts on January 10.
The wait is over. Let the rivalries, revenge and basketball begin.
- Clovis West Golden Eagles (15-3)
- 3rd place finish in Modesto Christian Holiday Hoops Tournament
- 2nd place finish in Clovis West Nike Invitational
- 1st place finish in NorCal Tip Off Tournament
The skinny: Three preseason tournaments, three top-3 finishes for Clovis West, who holds the best record in the league as TRAC play starts. They’re a small team as usual, but their passing is among the best in the section and they light it up from three-point range. Cole Anderson is the best player on this team, and perhaps the best player in the Central Section. They’ve had two last-second, single-point losses, which show this team may actually be better than its record indicates.
Player to watch: When his shot is hot, Cole Anderson is a man among boys. The opposing defense will have to gameplan specifically for Anderson by throwing double-teams or applying pressure to get him off his shot. Clovis North did this very well and was able to beat Clovis West with the strategy, but other teams have not and it’s led Anderson to score into the 30’s and 40’s.
“When Cole gets going, it opens up shots for the rest of the team, and that really helps,” said head coach Vance Wahlberg.
X-factor: Clovis West needs players not named Anderson to contribute scoring. Against Windward, Cole had 38 points – and Clovis West still lost by five. Clovis West needs another go-to scorer on its roster, and there are a couple worthy candidates; Seniors Jarren Carr and Max Phillips have shown flashes of their scoring potential in the past three tournaments. Both would be responsible for picking up the Golden Eagles offense if Anderson was gameplanned out of a game.
- Clovis North Broncos (12-5)
- 1st place finish in Valley Children’s Tip-Off Tournament
- 1st place finish in McDonald’s Winter Classic (Chico)
- 1st place finish in Clovis West Nike Invitational
The skinny: The Broncos started the season blazing hot with three tournament wins and a perfect 10-0 record, before dropping five of their last seven games. Defense and rebounding lead this team, as the Broncos held opponents to 63 points or fewer in all but one of their first eleven games. Part of this defensive success is simply size, as they have the tallest, most athletic roster in the TRAC. The Broncos execute well in the final two minutes of games, pulling out close contests against Modesto Christian, San Leandro and Clovis West.
Player to Watch: AK Okereke. You could also put Terri Miller here due to his shot-blocking and defensive prowess, but Okereke is the go-to scorer on this Broncos squad when the team is down. He was the tournament MVP of the Clovis West Nike Invitational, largely because in the tournament’s three closest games, AK made every key shot the Broncos needed.
X-Factor: The Broncos will have to focus on better shot selection and crisper passing to keep their offense going. Clovis North is prone to long scoring droughts on offense caused by short, unproductive possessions. The Broncos need to focus on making the one or two extra passes to get cleaner looks and improve their offensive efficiency. As head coach Tony Amundsen points out, with the Broncos, “”it’s about getting better and better every game.”
- Clovis East Timberwolves (12-4)
- 1st place finish at Legacy Tip-Off Classic (Las Vegas)
- 2nd place finish at KSA Events Tournament (Orlando, FL)
- 5th place finish at Modesto Christian Holiday Hoops Tournament
The Skinny: Head coach Adrian Wiggins has put together one of his best teams in his seven-year career coaching the Timberwolves. Clovis East loves to shoot three-pointers, and they’ll live and die by the three. This affinity for the three-point shot opens up the mid-range game, another focal point for the offense. This team is high-energy on defense, always scrambling and looking for a steal on every defensive possession. However, the Timberwolves lack size on defense to properly guard the inside game and is prone to fouling in these situations.
Player to Watch: The Clovis East offense relies on two players: Jermal Pittman and Tyler Pacheco. Perhaps the best 1-2 punch in the TRAC, they are both capable of going one-on-one against an opponent and scoring repeatedly. Head coach Adrian Wiggins has high expectations of his seniors: “The two of them worked hard and earned the right to be in this position to lead. Our program has big goals, and we won’t get there if [Pittman and Pacheco] don’t lead the way.”
X-Factor: Clovis East needs to develop an identity in the paint. Their hustle in the open court ensures they can limit a team in the transition game. Yet, when they face an opponent who takes care of the ball and has an inside game, Clovis East could be in trouble. Learning to effectively double-team and defend the paint will be essential to winning the TRAC for this Timberwolves squad
- Clovis High Cougars (10-6)
- 1st place finish at Immanuel Tournament of Champions
- 6th place finish at Clovis Elks Classic
The Skinny: Clovis High is in love with the pick and roll and the extra pass, and this makes their offense fun to watch. Yet against a pressure defense, they sometimes struggle to pass out of double teams and become prone to turnovers. Nonetheless, if Cal Stilson gets hot, the entire offense is humming and they can eliminate a double-digit deficit in a matter of minutes. On defense, they make up for lack of size with their speed and quick hands, but still struggle with rebounding.
Player to Watch: Cal Stilson is the star point guard on the team who makes the Cougars offense go. For a point guard, he sometimes struggles to spread the ball around, but his three-point shot and finishing touch make him a dangerous weapon for Clovis, capable of putting up big numbers on any defense.
X-Factor: Clovis needs to improve their rebounding. The Cougars have stretches of play where they get cold shooting. The ability to win on the offensive glass is crucial to ensuring these cold streaks don’t lose games. Clovis can improve boxing out and fighting for rebounds, in order to give their playmakers more possessions.
- Buchanan Bears (10-8)
- 2nd place finish at Stockton Children’s Classic
- 3rd place finish at Clovis Elks Classic
The Skinny: First-year head coach Brooks Malm comes from Idaho University and has brought his college coaching experience to Clovis. Through their Pack Line defense, Buchanan has managed to win games by limiting opponent’s scoring to an average of 50.7 points per game. The Bears are deliberate offensively and like to get into the paint to score. They are prepared to throw their bodies on the floor for every loose ball, and can rebound well despite their relatively smaller size
Player to Watch: Charlie Barnes, as described by Malm, is “a gym rat.” He certainly plays like he has nothing to lose, driving into the paint with no hesitation and being the first one to draw a charge on defense. Barnes is not only the best player offensively for the Bears, but the team’s biggest motivator.
X-Factor: The Bears have to keep every game in the 50’s. The Bears do not have the three-point threats and offensive firepower that the other TRAC teams have, yet they have one of the best defenses in the league. To win games, the Bears must play to their strengths and force opponents into a low-scoring affair. Malm has steadfast confidence to do just that. “We don’t pass the eye test for a lot of people… but we continue to find ways to keep scores down and give ourselves chances to win,” Malm said.