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Coach prepares players
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Practice should have already started. Members of the Ceres High boys summer basketball team stand outside the Blaker-Kinser Jr. High gymnasium. They talk about the past, present and future as they wait for their coach to arrive.

Will Ceres High contend for the Modesto Metro Conference championship and secure a berth in the playoffs in 2005-06?

"We have the potential," said Ceres High junior Ross Tate.

Coach Jason Martin hopes a taxing summer schedule will pay off during the upcoming season. He wants to make sure his players are prepared.

"We want to step up the level of competition," he said.

Ceres will play in more than 35 games over the next two months. The Bulldogs joined two leagues and signed up for several tournaments.

The Modesto Junior College League started yesterday. There are 28 teams. Each team will play 11 games. Games are held on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

The Delta League, which features 16 teams, gets underway in Stockton on June 15. Each team is guaranteed 12 games. Games are held on Wednesday nights.

Ceres will participate in 11 games at a tournament in San Diego, July 15-17.

"We've never done the Delta and JC leagues at the same time," Martin said. "It's going to be tough."

Ceres' schedule includes games against Laguna Creek, Franklin of Elk Grove, Saint Mary's, Escalon, Ripon, Modesto Christian and Golden Valley. Those seven teams participated in the section finals last year.

"That's the only way we can get better," Tate said. "Those are playoff-caliber teams."

The Bulldogs went 2-3 at the University of the Pacific Invitational this past weekend. Ceres beat Ripon 37-27 and Oakdale 39-36. They lost 45-34 to Valley High, 47-36 to Laguna Creek and 50-15 to Clovis West.

"This is the first time all the guys have played together," said Ceres assistant coach Brian de la Porte. "There's going to be an adjustment period."

The Bulldogs did show improvement.

"And we did every game," Brian said. - By DALE BUTLER / Staff reporter of the Ceres (Calif.) Courier