Central Section basketball bids goodbye to Colin Slater now, a dramatic journey continued, one that began awash amid Hurricane Katrina 11 years ago and finds those signature dreads about to return home to New Orleans.
This is a multilayered story unlike any in the 113-year history of a region stretching from Chowchilla to Bakersfield.
It began with Slater, then 6, and his Katrina-displaced family of four first living in Hanford for a few months before moving to Fresno County.
Ultimately, it would morph into four years of prep hoops theater for one Colin Edwardeux Slater II.
“I’m really enjoying life right now,” says the Immanuel senior point guard and Fresno Bee Player of the Year.
Now, yes, but not without enormous challenges along the way.
▪ The 2005 flood: “We lost everything. It was messed up. We didn’t have anything left.”
▪ A sophomore season wiped out by section administrators for what they deemed to be an athletic-motivated transfer from Clovis North to Immanuel: “It was really hard. I’m like, ‘Man, I’m doing the right thing and I’m getting into trouble because I came here; I might as well move out of the state.’ I just had to have trust in God and I’m glad I did it because it paid off. It was a learning process, definitely, and I loved every second of it.”
▪ And even now, going to Tulane – a cool thing, in his native New Orleans – but without the opportunity to play for the coach who recruited him and remained unfailingly faithful for three years, Ed Conroy.
He was fired a month ago, replaced since by NBA 17-year coach Mike Dunleavy Sr.
“When I first heard the news I was hurt,” Slater says. “I was like, ‘Wow, this is a person recruiting me since I was 15 years old and I won’t even get a year with him, I won’t even get a chance.’ He literally called me every day since my freshman year and would fly out here to see me every chance he had to see me.
“So I gave it to God and prayed on it. I believe everything happens for a reason. I’m going to remain faithful and stay diligent in everything I do. I believe it’s going to work out.”
At the end of the day, it generally has for Slater, who has beaten experiences of misfortune like he has defenders off the dribble: with conviction.
Aw man, people go through much worse. This isn’t a situation where I just got paralyzed, where I just lost my mom and dad and now it’s just me and my sister. I just keep it in perspective because God’s still blessing me.
Colin Slater II in reference to his life’s challenges
“Aw man, people go through much worse,” he says. “This isn’t a situation where I just got paralyzed, where I just lost my mom and dad and now it’s just me and my sister. I just keep it in perspective because God’s still blessing me.”
Slater’s impact at Immanuel is hard to measure.
Immanuel Schools Superintendent Ryan Wood puts it this way: “This is my 21st year here and I have watched a lot of amazing kids come through our school. But I can confidently say that Colin, as an overall student-athlete, leader and follower of Jesus, is a good as it gets.”
Talent never in question – In two years with the keys in Slater’s hands, Immanuel went 55-9, including 42-1 against section competition and 20-0 in the Central Sequoia League, and won consecutive Division IV titles at Selland Arena.
In those finals, Slater delivered 25 points, eight rebounds, four assists and four steals in a 70-50 win over Granite Hills in 2015 and 20 points, including 9 of 9 free throws, five assists and three steals in a 60-44 victory over Taft in March.
Growing from 5 feet, 9 inches and 155 pounds as a freshman to 6-1, 193 today, he finished with 1,785 career points in the three years combined at Clovis North and Immanuel, according to section historian Bob Barnett. He had a school-record 52 points against Selma as junior.
1 Immanuel losses in 43 games against Central Section competition behind Slater in two seasons
Slater, a powerful driver who often drew fouls – and made 90 percent of his attempts from the line when he did – averaged 22.2 points this season while shooting 63 percent overall from the field and 49 percent on three-pointers.
But never – ever – was this remotely about Slater getting fat on D-IV and CSL competition for the athlete also named State D-IV Player of the Year by Cal-Hi Sports.
From his first high school season, when he made All-Tri River Athletic Conference and All-State Freshman at Clovis North, to his final career game, when he had prohibitive underdog Immanuel far more competitive in defeat than expected in the Southern California Open Division Regionals against national mythical champion and unbeaten Chino Hills, Slater excelled against elite competition.
Never was he more impressive than on March 17, 2015, in a deafening Eagles gym when he matched point guard Aaron Holiday’s 35-point performance in a 77-71 loss to Campbell Hall-North Hollywood in the SoCal D-IV semifinals. Holiday started this season for UCLA.
In addition, Immanuel went 6-1 against section D-I teams the past two seasons, losing 92-90 in triple overtime to Clovis East at Fresno City in early January.
Further, the Eagles beat eventual section D-I champions both years – Edison 77-61 at College of the Sequoias in 2015 and Central 76-65 this season at the Edison Super Saturday Showcase.
“He was a good ball handler who made great decisions on the court and was an exceptional leader,” Central coach Greg Streets says. “He’s just an exceptional player, and you’re going to find very few in the Valley with a high IQ such as his.”
Slater is defined not by his statistics but by the work ethic that led to them, says Immanuel coach Nate McClurg: “One of the most impressive aspects of Colin’s personality is his pursuit of perfection. He has dedicated untold hours to improving his game. Colin lifted weights after games, came in every morning at 6 to work in the gym and asked questions about life, schoolwork and everything in between.
“The dedication to his personal improvement will have a lasting impact on our program and school. Our young players have had a phenomenal role model the last few years and are aware it is no accident that Colin is the person and player he is.”
Slater says in 20 years he’ll most cherish not the basketball glory, but the relationships he experienced on campus and out of uniform.
“Most rewarding has been just doing the right thing, just letting God use me, that’s the main thing,” he says. “Just being a leader, just being a person people can talk to, have a friendship with and look up to at the same time.
“That’s what I will remember down the road, that’s for sure.”
Outstanding Offensive Player: Bryson Williams
- School: Roosevelt
- Grade: Senior
- He’s qualified because: North Yosemite League Most Valuable Player and a close second to Immanuel’s Colin Slater II for Bee Player of the Year honors checks out of Roosevelt with a four-year total of 2,302 points – fifth in Central Section history and a city of Fresno record, according to section historian Bob Barnett. Williams’ 33.8-point average this season is second to McFarland’s Eliseo Santillano (34.7, 1992) in section annals. His single-game high of 53 points is also a city record and tied for third all-time in the section. At 6-8 and with a wingspan of a 7-footer, he also averaged 18 rebounds and five blocks this season for the 25-8 Rough Riders.
- What a way to go out, sorta: Williams’ final city appearance as a prep was a 29-point, 23-rebound, two-block performance in Roosevelt’s 60-36 throttling of Selma for the section Division-III title in early March at Selland Arena. That was the Riders’ first section crown since 1977 and only their second overall. But there’s more to come in the city for Williams. Next – Fresno State and Save Mart Center.
- He said it: “Bryson has had an impact that I would call culture changing. He’s a kid of great character, and that rubbed off on the whole campus. Anybody who meets him loves him instantly. I’ve never coached a kid with so much drive who was that talented. I assisted on five Edison teams, four that went to Valley championship games and produced three professional players and nine Division I players, and he works harder than any of them. The future is very bright for this young man as he continues his education at Fresno State.” – Roosevelt coach Jamarr Chisom.
Outstanding Defensive Player: Matt Borba
- School: Lemoore
- Grade: Senior
- He’s qualified because: Watch Central Section Division II champion Lemoore and the weekly eye-catchers were the oft-sensational inside play of 6-7 Jaylunn English and the athletic tenacity of Roger Wilson, Allen Perryman and Reggie Davis on the perimeter. But all along in purple and gold was the unfailing motor of No. 22, Borba, who had no match in baseline-to-baseline hustle and interior defense.
- When it mattered most: The 6-5 Borba, with nine points, had four teammates score more in a resounding 84-77 upset at Selland Arena in the D-II final of Ridgeview, which arrived 28-1, state-ranked and a prohibitive favorite. But arguably no statistic had more influence than the four Borba blocks and inside presence against the likes of Ridgeview’s skywalking 6-6 Jordan Roberts – the Bakersfield Californian’s Player of the Year – who made only 5 of 16 shots and fouled out.
- He said it: “I always thought the anchor for us was Matthew because he allowed Jaylunn to take risks normally to protect the middle. When you talk about defense, Matt was all heart and hustle. His job was to protect the paint, and I never once had to tell him to get back on defense, so we were always in position to do what we wanted defensively. He put so much time and effort in the weight room, he put on a great amount of muscle strength, but was still lean, fast and really strong. I didn’t name a team MVP, because how can I say one was more valuable than another? But Borba was maybe the team MVP no one hears about.” – Lemoore coach Joel Sligh.
Coach of the Year: Joel Sligh
- School: Lemoore
- He’s qualified because: If you want a self-effacing coach and admitted “wandering soul” of not too many years past, here’s your man. Here’s also a six-year, 103-65 coach at Lemoore whose 26-4 season featured one of the state’s most notable upsets of the year – 84-77 over Ridgeview for the Central Section Division II title at Selland Arena in early March. Ridgeview had arrived in downtown Fresno with a 28-1 record, ranked among the state’s D-II elite and a prohibitive favorite against the Tigers after thundering El Diamante 70-47 and Mission Oak 77-61 in the section playoffs. But Lemoore – loose, aggressive and simply “having fun” under Sligh’s charge – bolted to a 22-11 first-quarter lead and followed nose to the wire for its first section gold in 24 years. The comparative scores game favors Lemoore as the section’s best team, given Ridgeview’s 80-59 road dominance in early January at eventual D-I champion Central.
- Initially, he followed her: Sligh – pronounced “Sly” – is 34, a 2000 graduate of Kingsburg High and former four-year basketball player at Fresno Pacific. His then-girlfriend and Liberty-Madera Ranchos girls basketball coach, the former Rebecca Harp, encouraged him to pursue coaching: “I didn’t think I’d ever be a good one.” Yet he caved and first assisted her and then-Liberty boys coach Nick French before earning a teaching credential and coming aboard at Lemoore as a social science teacher and varsity boys coach.
- He said it: “Honestly, I never thought I’d be a good coach; tell me this is a joke now. It’s been a surreal experience. I had seen Ridgeview play a couple times – they were athletic, tall, big – but I was excited to go out there and actually play against these guys we had heard about so often. My guys weren’t nervous and afraid; we just approached it as a basketball game, loose, and never changed our personal game that it was supposed to be. And it would encompass the team we’d had all year – the most fun group of kids I’ve ever been around: Just turn on the switch and compete. I’m not sure, at the end of the day, I’ll ever just be able to hang out with teams such as this. This is all beyond the scope of my imagination.” – Lemoore coach Joel Sligh
The Bee’s Pretty 30 Boys Basketball All-Stars
- Donovan Mitchell, senior, Buchanan
- Jaylon Johnson, junior, Central
- Chris Seeley, senior, Central
- Cash Williams, sophomore, Central
- Trey Semien, senior, Clovis East
- Ben Avera, junior, Clovis North
- Jahvon Johnson, senior, Clovis North
- Elijah Straughter, junior, Clovis North
- Adrian Antunez, junior, Clovis West
- Adrian Martinez, sophomore, Clovis West
- Ruben Parks, senior, Edison
- Lee Major, junior, Fresno
- Oscar Hernandez, junior, Granite Hills
- Juwaune Hughes, senior, Hanford
- Ryan Johnson, junior, Hanford
- Savion Johnson, senior, Hanford West
- Darrin Person Jr., junior, Immanuel
- R.J. Horn, senior, Immanuel
- David Rico, junior, Kerman
- Jaylunn English, senior, Lemoore
- Allen Perryman, senior, Lemoore
- Roger Wilson, senior, Lemoore
- Ethan Richardson, senior, Madera
- Pardeep Gill, senior, Memorial
- Lunden Taylor, sophomore, Memorial
- Mason Ellis, senior, Minarets
- Dakota Coleman, senior, El Diamante
- Austin Molezzo, senior, Mission Oak
- Will Shannon, senior, Mission Oak
- William Pallesi, sophomore, Selma
- Junior Ramirez, sophomore, Selma