Clovis News: Sports

Central Section's best hoops teams eye titles

The road to Selland Arena for this weekend's Central Section basketball championships has brought with it several compelling angles:

  • Hanford's (Division I) and Yosemite's girls (D-II), staring the section's controversial "competitive equity" concept in the face and still marching into the finals with the smallest enrollments in their divisions.
  • The feel-good story: Hoover's boys (D-III), still standing, after a December automobile crash involving five starters and an assistant coach.
  • Tulare's boys and Monache's girls – in a combined 46-3 year – having positioned themselves to make profound statements in D-II for a league that needs it, the East Yosemite.
  • Clovis North's boys (D-II) and Independence's girls (D-III) making the dance with their first senior classes.
    • The return of Central Valley Christian's Grant Verhoeven to the arena once christened "Grant's Tomb" out of respect to former Fresno State coach Boyd Grant. And, no, Verhoeven's father, Pete – who arrived at Fresno State with Boyd Grant – didn't name his son by coincidence.
  • And, above all, the Clovis West-Bullard D-I boys final at 8 p.m. Saturday, guaranteeing another healthy gate for a two-day event that made $180,000 in its first six years at Selland.
  • And $165,000 of that – 92% – was returned to the participating schools when, because of a general agreement, the section's CIF office could have kept 40%.

    "We think it's such an important event that we should pay the schools back because we've done so well financially," section commissioner Jim Crichlow said.

    The Selland show has caught a revenue-generating break in that all six prior D-I boys finals – the main event, to use boxing parlance – have matched Clovis and Fresno schools.

    A record 7,000 fans saw Clovis East defeat Buchanan 71-52 in last year's championship. But that mark could fall given Bullard's presence Saturday.

    While appearing in the title game is old hat for top-seeded Clovis West (24-4) – this will be No. 13 in the past 15 years – the No. 3 Knights haven't qualified since beating Hanford 47-46 in the 1996 championship.

    That was their second title in school history – the other in 1994 as coached also by Dan Pagliotti – and they'll roll into Selland with a deep, fast and sharp-shooting 26-6 crew that upset second-seeded Bakersfield 65-54 on the road in Wednesday's semifinals.

    Further, a school on a mission to elevate its reputation in general, and one well aware of Clovis West's success in the powerful Clovis Unified District, Bullard could arrive with a good 2,000 blue-clad fans in tow.

    Bullard will actually throw a two-hour pregame tailgate barbecue in front of its north gym before caravanning to downtown Fresno.

    "The energy on campus is huge," said Knights athletic director Doug Finks, on a winter-season high with championship and runner-up D-I finishes in girls and boys soccer.

    "We're making a push to get Bullard back where it needs to be," he said. "We're chasing all the Clovis schools, yet we want our own identity and that's really important. We want longtime families who have left this area to stop and say, 'Hey, why did I leave? That's where I need to be, that's my home.' We want people to look at this area as a viable option."

    Key to Bullard's basketball ascent has been Tony Amundsen, the former Central coach and Fresno City assistant.

    He's 59-30 in three years with the Knights, but the most encouraging number is this – 291.

    That's how many Little Knights are playing in the school's youth feeder program, a figure that has tripled since Amundsen took over.

    Clovis West has flourished since setting the standard with lower-level basketball participation under former coach Vance Walberg 20 years ago.

    "Vance had 700 kids at Clovis West; everybody was going to his program when nobody else had one going," Amundsen said.

    "Now I think the kids are starting to identify with ours. They're going to our games and all of a sudden they're getting that feeling, 'Hey, that could be me someday.'"

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