Immanuel High’s boys basketball team has a lunch date Saturday at Selland Arena, and there will be no surprise entree.
It will be there at noon that the 24-5 and top-seeded Eagles – returning 2015 Bee co-Players of the Year Colin Slater II and Darrin Person Jr. and others – will name the score against No. 11 and overachieving Taft (19-11) in the Division IV championship, win a third straight Central Section title, return home, awake Sunday and wait.
And, at that point, all certainties cease.
The Southern California Regional seedings will be announced later Sunday, but an overhaul in the process has left Immanuel, in particular, in a fog as to its destination.
That’s because a two-year pilot experiment in SoCal seeding will throw all boys and girls qualifiers into a pot from the Central, Southern, Los Angeles City and San Diego sections, rank them and disperse.
And that means many teams will be playing in divisions different than they played at the section level in a competitive-equity approach similar in concept to what the Central Section has deployed for about 10 years in most of its sports.
Section Commissioner Jim Crichlow assures this for Immanuel’s boys: They won’t return to D-IV in the regionals a year after defeating Southern Section perennial power Oaks Christian-Westlake Village 77-60 in Reedley and advancing to the semifinals.
“No lower than D-II,” Crichlow forecasts for the Eagles, who remained at home for a 77-71 loss to Campbell Hall-North Hollywood to close a 30-3 season a year ago.
Immanuel, which has gone 41-1 against in-section teams while outscoring the opposition by an average of 31.6 points in two seasons, is ranked No. 2 in the state behind Salesian-Richmond (26-4) among D-IV teams by Cal-Hi Sports.
But that’s effectively meaningless because the Eagles will be shipped to the Open Division, D-I or, most likely, D-II for the regionals.
The best of the elite can be found in the Open Division, which will comprise the top eight in both the South and the North.
Chino Hills (30-0) of the Southern Section, as the most obvious example, is top-ranked nationally by MaxPreps.
Crichlow says Immanuel was nearly stuck in the Open Division last year: “They were ranked ninth in the seeding.”
Immanuel coach Nate McClurg, who took over the program this season from C.J. Haydock, says seeding placement hardly matters.
“At this point, it doesn’t matter,” he says, “because, in the state playoffs, everybody’s good.”
Especially the Open Division.
“Those teams are at a different level,” he says. “They’re a different animal. I’d just like to get a couple home games; that’s always nice.”
Immanuel’s gym was packed long before tipoffs for last year’s regionals as Slater and Person proved worthy of competing with SoCal’s finest.
And they’re back stronger and better than ever – Slater, a senior at 6-foot-1 and 183 pounds, and Person, a junior at 6-6, 215.
Person is averaging 17 points and 9.4 rebounds.
Slater, a point guard who has signed with Tulane, is averaging 22.6 points and a slew of assists, rebounds and steals.
But there’s more.
“He’s always been very skilled,” said McClurg, who had been Haydock’s deputy assistant. “The thing we’ve tried to emphasize is the mental side of the game and, specifically, helping his teammates to become better.
“You’ve got to mean the words you’re saying and care about the guys you’re playing with, and Colin has done a really nice job with that. Against Kingsburg (in the semifinals), he ran the huddle and called all the sets in the first quarter. That’s the level of trust I have in him.”
Slater has embraced the directive: “I’ve always been pretty quiet and have tried to lead by example. Then I was challenged this year by teammates and coaches. They were like, ‘Hey, man, talk to us.’ They trusted me, and I think I’ve improved that way in leading vocally.”
Regarding the SoCal Regionals, what division the Eagles are headed to and whom they’ll play, he says: “I really don’t know who’s good in Southern California. Honestly, I only worry about us. However far we get, I just want to make sure we have no regrets.”
At New Orleans-based Tulane, he’ll be returning home. He was raised for six years in New Orleans before coming out West.
He also made official recruiting visits to UC Santa Barbara and the University of San Francisco.
“It was always my dream to play at Tulane, but I didn’t know I’d be good enough to play basketball. When I visited there, I knew that’s where I’d be going. It all worked out.”
Championship weekend at Selland
Boys: No. 1 Clovis North vs. No. 2 Central, 8 p.m.
Girls: No. 1 Clovis West vs. No. 2 Edison, 6 p.m.
Boys: No. 1 Ridgeview vs. No. 2 Lemoore, 8 p.m.
Girls: No. 2 Independence vs. No. 5 Bakersfield, 6 p.m.
Boys: No. 1 Roosevelt vs. No. 3 Selma, 4 p.m.
Girls: No. 1 Mission Oak vs. No. 3 Madera, 2 p.m.
Boys: No. 1 Immanuel vs. No. 11 Taft, noon
Girls: No. 1 Immanuel vs. No. 2 Orosi, 10 a.m.
Boys: No. 1 Kern Valley vs. No. 14 Fresno Christian, 4 p.m.
Girls: No. 1 Memorial vs. No. 2 Caruthers, 2 p.m.