Central Section girls basketball is missing Mr. Charismatic, Mark Gradoville, the coach who authored one of the region's most moving stories of the decade at Roosevelt High last season.
"I may come back, somewhere, somehow," said Gradoville, who resigned in the summer, a few months after guiding the Rough Riders to their first girls section basketball title in the 80-year history of the school.
He was named Bee Coach of the Year and Cal-Hi Sports' Division III Coach of the Year following a 28-3 season that featured a remarkable 51-47 come-from-behind win over Porterville for the section's D-III crown at Selland Arena.
Roosevelt embraced a "Refuse to Lose" rallying cry from the coach, who hung a green towel over his shoulder, marched the side court and willed to succeed a program that turned over a 26-game losing streak to him when he took over in 2002.
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The Riders would go 0-16 that season before progressing every year under Gradoville.
But it left him out of breath: "I needed a break. I was drained, and it was a good time to go. Right after the season I talked to people from my family, and the fact I was even thinking about [resigning] told me something."
Gradoville's longtime assistant, Stan Magee, has taken over the program on an interim basis.
Fresno Unified School District athletic director Doug Semmen is banking on Gradoville's return -- in some capacity.
"A coach with that much intensity, dedication, determination and drive belongs on the court," Semmen said. "He inspired an entire community."
Super Saturday for hoops
An unusual, late January Saturday for section basketball will deliver high-profile games at Hanford and Clovis East.
At Hanford, the 19-3 Bullpups girls will oppose Oak Ridge-El Dorado Hills (18-2) at 6 p.m. in a matchup of Cal-Hi Sports' Nos. 9 and 6 teams in the state.
Hanford is also No. 3 in D-II and Oak Ridge of the Sac-Joaquin Section is No. 3 in D-I.
The game will feature two of the state's premier guards in Bullpups junior Madison Parrish, who has committed to Fresno State, and Trojans senior Sara James (Stanford).
At Clovis East, the Timberwolves' 18-5 boys will take on Buchanan (15-4) in a Tri-River Athletic Conference showdown matching the section's Nos. 1 and 2 teams at 7:30 p.m.
They're also each 3-0 in the league, which Buchanan has never won in the TRAC's 13-year history. Clovis East is the defending champion.
And, much like the Hanford-Oak Ridge game, this one will showcase outstanding backcourts, led by the Timberwolves' Robert Sandoval and the Bears' Jackson Carbajal.
The contest was moved back a day because of a gym conflict involving a band review at Clovis East.