V ISALIA — They traveled well from Fresno County on Monday night to stuff College of the Sequoias’ Porter Fieldhouse and see the most intriguing boys high school basketball game to date this season in the Central Section — Immanuel vs. Edison.
That’s the tiny private school from Reedley vs. the record 22-time section record-holder from Fresno’s west side.
And they witnessed a clinic, of course, in the final of six MLK Showcase games.
It was such a mismatch, it was over midway through the second quarter.
That’s when it was 34-13.
That’s when it was raining 3s from Colin Slater and R.J. Horn, marvelous ball distribution and textbook defense.
And, no, they weren’t wearing the black and gold from Edison.
Try the red, white and blue from Immanuel, which soared to a 77-61 blowout in their latest “championship” — a game they led by 28 early in the third quarter.
The Division IV Central Sequoia League school with 280 students has already won its own tournament and the Holiday Invitational.
The 15-2 Eagles have beaten the two best D-I teams in Kern County: Centennial and Liberty-Bakersfield.
They’ve beaten Fresno and Roosevelt, now up to D-II after finishing Nos. 1-2 in D-III last year.
In Edison, they toyed with the defending D-I titlist.
The MLK Showcase wasn’t a tournament, but a championship in the sense that it was Immanuel’s last shot at a D-I in the section. And what a rousing performance, on a neutral court, no less.
“For us, it was affirmation,” says coach C.J. Haydock from Immanuel, which is up a division after winning D-V last season. “We’re super process-oriented; we’re big into habits. And then to have the opportunity to practice those habits in a championship environment like this, that’s the biggest thing for me because we hope there’s a lot of big stages in our future.”
Let’s discuss the biggest, the brightest — the state D-IV playoffs. And why not?
Because reality says there’s no team in the CSL and the section’s D-IV that can remotely play in the neighborhood of a team that received 29 points, 11 assists and 11 of 12 free throws from Slater, and 23 points, 11 rebounds and five steals from Horn — and they’re both juniors.
Imagine: The Eagles turned the MLK Showcase into their own despite having 6-foot-6 Darrin Person Jr., one of the state’s elite sophomores, play only 6 minutes because of foul trouble, scoring two points.
Unfortunately, reality also says the state’s D-IV is so powerful, so deep, that several teams — such as Bishop Montgomery-Torrance, Chamindade-West Hills, Orange Lutheran and Campbell Hall-North Hollywood — have enough major college talent to compete for state D-I championships.
Could Immanuel legitimately compete on their level today?
“No,” Haydock says. “But that’s eight weeks away. What we did tonight was an obvious big step forward. We passed the ball well, we shot the lights out and defended like crazy. Those are good steps and if we can keep doing those, then who knows?”
Edison coach T.J. Wilkins could only applaud: “Colin’s the best player in the Valley; he’s good and he always steps up his game in the big ones. Immanuel’s obviously one of the best teams in our section, if not the best. But down south? In D-IV? My God, I mean, they’re loaded.”
“We try so hard to shield our kids from thinking ahead. You never hear me talk about winning anything in practice. We’re about right here, right now: What can we do on this play? If we start staring down that (state playoff) line, then we short-change today.
“End of discussion.”