Ceres High School’s boys basketball program made its last appearance in the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs in 2016-17, finishing 15-12 on the season during Julio Marquez’s final year as head coach.
The Bulldogs will try to secure their first postseason berth under fifth-year leader T.J. Walker Jr.’s guidance this winter.
“This team is built to win games,” said Walker, who’s compiled a record of 40-56 during his coaching career at Ceres High. “Consistency is the biggest piece. When you start winning, you start building confidence.”
“We want to score more points this year,” he added. “We’re very fast. We like to play up and down. We have to take care of the ball and get stops.”
Verlis Smith (Sr.) and Adrian Ontiveros (Jr.) will lead the Bulldogs this winter.
Fellow returnees Lebron Stallworth (Jr.), Ricky Stanley (Jr.) and Fernando Franco (Sr.) will also contribute.
Ceres High has 10 newcomers in Donivan Turley (Sr.), Caleb Dunn (Jr.), Manuel Gonzalez (Jr.), Landyn Hudson (Jr.), Jaylin Jackson (Jr.), Tarrell Lee-Gill (Jr.), Thomas Lopez (Jr.), Kahmi Smith (Jr.), Jacob Swanson (Jr.) and Tavion Travis (Jr.).
“They’re going to play hard no matter what,” Walker said while talking about his cast of new players. “They just have to learn what we’re doing.”
Samar Singh, Inderraj Dhillon, Andrew Kommavong, Ryan Ashby, Mike Leon, Gabe Newton and Noah Avalos were lost to graduation. Singh and Dhillon both earned first-team all-Western Athletic Conference South Division honors. Singh averaged 15.0 points and 9.0 points per game while starring at center. He ranked first on the team in both statistical categories. Dhillon averaged 12.0 points and 4.0 assists at guard. He was second on the team in both offensive categories.
Walker named Ontiveros and Verlis Smith team captains.
“They’re our hardest-working guys,” Walker said. “We can always count on them.”
Smith is a fourth-year varsity player. He’s also a standout in football, track and field and volleyball.
Ontiveros was promoted to varsity as a freshman.
Smith averaged 11.7 points and 7.3 rebounds per game junior year.
He scored a team-high 19 points in a non-conference game versus powerhouse Modesto Christian.
Smith would have most likely received all-conference recognition had he played the entire season. He missed both games against first-place Los Banos after being placed into COVID quarantine for a second time.
“If Verlis is healthy and on the floor, he should definitely be in the running for (league) MVP this year,” Walker said.
Ceres High will compete in the WAC this season, along with Beyer, Grace Davis, Johansen, Lathrop, Mountain House, Los Banos and Pacheco.
The Bulldogs were previously members of the league from 2010-20.
Ceres High spent this past year in the WAC South Division for coronavirus safety reasons. The Bulldogs posted a 5-10 overall record and placed second in conference play (5-3).
“We were better than what our record was,” Walker said. “If Verlis played the entire year, I strongly believe that we would have won league. We just had some bad luck.”
Ceres High beat Central Valley and Pacheco twice, and Johansen once during the 2020-21 WAC South campaign. The Bulldogs lost twice to first-place Los Banos and once to third-place Johansen. Ceres High’s two games against WAC North member Grace Davis were canceled due to COVID protocols.
The Bulldogs’ non-league losses were to Calaveras, Golden Valley, Central Catholic, Downey, Modesto Christian, Denair and Venture Academy.
Playoffs were postponed for all sports during the 2020-21 school year because of a late start to the season due to COVID-19.
“The COVID year changed me,” Walker said. “It made me slow down and live in the moment. I’m still feisty. But I’m a lot more patient.”
“We’re definitely glad to be back and playing a full season,” he added. “The intensity at practice is going up. They’re working hard. I’m trying to get the kids locked in for each game. We want to win league and get to playoffs.”