Fresno City College men’s basketball coach Ed Madec believes James O’Neal and Dejon Burdeaux are the best junior college guards in the state.
Madec adds — with a serious look — that he’s not exaggerating.
During Central Valley Conference play, O’Neal and Burdeaux showed their skills. O’Neal was named the conference most valuable player and Burdeaux co-defensive player of the year as they led the Rams to a 12-0 league record.
Now comes the fun part.
The sophomores lead the top-seeded Rams (28-3) into their Northern California Regional opener on a 19-game winning streak, hosting No. 17 Foothill (13-16) at 7 p.m. Saturday.
“They’re my guards,” Madec said. “I recruited them; I trained them. I believe in my guys. They’re my guys and I’m rolling with them when push comes to shove.”
Burdeaux said he and O’Neal can back it up.
“He’s not exaggerating,” he said of Madec’s claim. “James and I believe it, too. Our teammates believe it. If anybody doesn’t believe it, then I always say there’s one way to find out.”
O’Neal, who had 66 assists in CVC play, pointed out that the two complement each other on offense: He’s the pass-first guard; Burdeaux is the scorer.
“When Dejon is being agrressive,” O’Neal said, “I don’t think anybody can guard him. He takes a lot of pressure off men and everybody else.
O’Neal and Burdeaux are hoping their Rams careers continue through the regional and into the state finals — especially after the Rams last season lost as the No. 2 seed 83-72 in the fourth round against eventual state champ Santa Rosa.
The two got together for what O’Neal called a “heart-to-heart” meeting where they said “that can’t be us next year.” The talk brought them closer, O’Neal added, and helped them focus on their roles as leaders.
“Dejon and I realize it’s a one-game season — no regrets,” O’Neal said. “He said,‘We’ve just got to come closer and lead these guys next year. Get further and win a state title.’ ”
Madec noticed the difference in both. Burdeaux, Madec said, has turned into the “best defender I’ve ever coached.”
“That’s a strong statement,” he said. “His prowess is something to take note of. He thinks defense first and offense second. That’s rare in today’s game. He’s genuine. Nothing fake or fraudulent about it.”
O’Neal, the coach said, has improved his strength considerably and in turn “the game became slow motion for him.” He’s also gained confidence as a leader for the team.
“He wasn’t vocal when he got here,” Madec said. “In order to become a good leader, you have to be a follower and follow the right examples. Credit to his character; he turned into a great player.”