The two-day Central Section basketball dance this weekend at Selland Arena will find a broad range of rhythm.
There are those who’ve long mastered their step — none greater than Edison’s boys, who with a Division I win over County/Metro Athletic Conference rival Bullard at 8 p.m. Saturday would tie Mater Dei-Santa Ana for the most section titles in state history with 23.
Clovis West’s girls will be seeking their 15th crown; Immanuel’s boys their 12th.
Edison, Mission Oak, Immanuel and Caruthers are pursuing boys/girls sweeps as the finals play out beginning with divisions II and V on Friday. Six more games, in divisions I, III and IV, follow Saturday.
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Another theme, however, will be those who’ve been without.
Nine of the 20 finalists have never won a title; three more have but one, according to section historian Bob Barnett.
And consider the remarkable turnaround of Orosi’s D-IV girls under coach Mark Cerda.
This is a program that went 0-20, 5-19, 3-17, 2-16, 3-19, 8-18 and 4-19 from 2006-12.
The last three years of that woeful stretch were on Cerda’s whistle, but he’s since gone 17-10, 23-7 and 27-2. And the top-seeded Cardinals are making a repeat trip to Selland, having lost 50-38 last year to Lindsay in the D-IV final.
Orosi will play second-seeded Immanuel (21-6) for the D-IV title at 10 a.m. Saturday. The Eagles were bumped up a division after winning the past two D-V crowns.
The program’s first section championship would be the ultimate reward for Cerda, a campus groundskeeper, who found losing no longer acceptable three years ago.
“So we did it the old fashioned way,” he says, “we rolled up our sleeves and went to work. We were no longer done on Valentine’s Day. We committed to getting into the gym in the summer, that’s been the model, and it filtered down to the younger girls. Now they come in knowing what to expect. The girls say, ‘I’m going to play basketball and this is what I have to do.’ That culture has been established here.”
Edison’s boys have written the book on basketball culture. And Bullard is catching up, making its fifth consecutive D-I appearance at Selland, which will house the finals for the 11th year. The Knights had won three straight titles before losing 58-41 to the Tigers last year before a crowd of about 7,000.
The all-Fresno Unified championship helped set a 100-year district precedence, following a Fresno-Roosevelt D-III final four hours earlier.
And those two games contributed greatly to a record financial boon that resulted in a total of $24,600 going back to participating schools, according to section Commissioner Jim Crichlow.
“This says a lot about our programs,” says coach T.J. Wilkins, whose second-seeded Edison boys split with No. 4 Bullard while sharing the CMAC title. “We go at each other twice a year (in league), and they’re always knock-out, drag-out games. For them to be there five years in a row is unbelievable. Those kids are no strangers to Selland Arena.”