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JV basketball team loaded with talent
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The Ceres High JV boys basketball team has an imposing starting lineup and a skilled bench.

"This is the only team that in all the years I have coached at Ceres High School that I can play big and pound the ball inside, play small and press or play regular old basketball," said Ceres head coach Jim Pernetti. "I've never had all of the pieces before."

Added assistant coach Brian de la Porte: "This team is so balanced."

Steven Downs, Brett Sayad, Henry Shamoeil, Andrew Chipponeri and Ray Green start.

Downs is a powerful player. The 6-foot-6 center is a force inside and can knock down long-range shots, including 3-pointers, consistently.

"Our trouble is getting him to get under the basket because he can shoot from the outside," Pernetti said. "He needs to dominate the middle. We got to get a little bit more defense out of him too."

Sayad is a versatile player. The 6-5 freshman's main position is power forward. He can also play center, small forward and shooting guard.

"His potential is unlimited," Pernetti said.

"If I have any goals for him, he needs to learn to D-up hard and get physical."

Shamoeil, Chipponeri and Green all pose a threat from the outside. They can also create off the dribble if and when needed.

Chipponeri is a 5-10 shooting guard.

Shamoeil is a 5-10 small forward. He can also play shooting guard.

Green is a 6-foot point guard/shooting guard.

Ceres' top reserves are DaArron Grays, Adarsh Brar and Ricardo Castellanos. Nick Pearson, Chad Hurt, Manpreet Atwal and Gary Martinez are also on the team.

Grays, a 6-footer, plays shooting guard and/or small forward.

Brar is a 6-4 center.

Castellanos is a 5-8 point guard/shooting guard.

"This second group isn't bad either," Pernetti said. "When they go in there, they get after it."

Said de la Porte: "We're eight deep."

Downs, Sayad, Chipponeri, Green and Brar all played together for de la Porte's traveling basketball team during the summer. D.C. United, which featured two players from Grace Davis and five from Ceres High, won several AAU tournaments.

"Brian has done a lot for the program," Pernetti said.

Said de la Porte: "They're good kids. They continue to work hard and want to work. I just continue to help them."

Downs, Shamoeil, Chipponeri, Green, Brar, Castellanos, Pearson, Atwal and Hurt were members of the 2003-04 Ceres High freshman basketball team, which compiled a 10-3 record in league and went 20-4 overall. De la Porte was head coach.

Ceres hasn't won a league championship in JV basketball since 1987, when it was a member of the Golden Valley League.

The 1992-93 team, which was led by Fred Orange, A.J. Street and Oscar Ruiz, finished second in the Valley Oak League and went 18-5 overall.

"Since 1994, we've had one varsity and two freshman championships," de la Porte said. "It would be nice for them to move up next year as league champions."

Ceres will be competing for the Modesto Metro Conference championship this year. The Bulldogs will try to win their first league crown in 17 years.

Ceres won five of its first six non-league games. The Bulldogs beat three teams by an average of 29.7 points per game en route to claiming the Modesto City Tournament title on Dec. 4.

Ceres suffered its lone loss at home on Nov. 24. Playing without Sayad, the Bulldogs fell 65-54 to the Sierra Timberwolves. Sayad suited up for the varsity squad.

"It's really a challenge for me to keep them playing at a high level," Pernetti said. "The competition isn't good. They get bored sometimes."

Opposing coaches have expressed displeasure following blowouts.

"I won't tell my kids not to play," Pernetti said. "Other coaches take it the wrong way."

Ceres' toughest league opponent will be Grace Davis. The Bulldogs compiled a 2-1 record against the Spartans in the summer league.

"This year, we have three tough games against Davis," de la Porte said. "It will be a challenge. We're confident we're going to beat them but we have to play well. I don't think we have to play great. If everybody has solid games, we should win."

Davis' top-two players, center Geoffrey Harrison and point guard Eric Waterford, played for D.C. United.

"I guarantee you if you were to call Eric he would say he was looking forward to playing us," de la Porte said. "He's probably circled the dates on his calendar."

Ceres opens league play at Modesto High School on Jan. 5. The Bulldogs' first meeting against Grace Davis will take place on Jan. 15.

"This is the best group we have had at this level for a long time," Pernetti said. "As long as the kids keep up the desire and want, I don't see them not doing it (winning a league and section championship at the varsity level in the future) if they stay together."

The 2005-06 varsity team, in all likelihood, will feature a handful of returnees (Matt Schwark, Kevin Dupree, Ross Tate, Brad Muniz, Dingko Luangchai) and a host of players from the 2004-05 JV squad (Downs, Sayad, Grays, Green, Shamoeil and Chipponeri).

"I can't wait for this time next year," de la Porte said. "I think (the varsity team will be) pretty tough. We're going to be young."

The 2006-07 team could be just as good as the 1993-94 Bulldogs. Mel Claxton, Fred Orange, Jeff Burrows and Paul Veuve led Ceres High to the VOL title, into the quarterfinals of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division II playoffs and a 27-4 overall record. Glenn Driskell was head coach.

"The ultimate goal would be to hang a blue banner in the gym," de la Porte said.

The JV Bulldogs will be hosting a tournament this week. Four teams will be participating, including Ceres, Argonaut, Lodi and Weston Ranch. - By DALE BUTLER / Staff Reporter of The Ceres (Calif.) Courier