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Ceres High School ended its search for a varsity boys basketball coach on May 28.

Brian de la Porte will replace Jason Martin, who stepped down after leading the Bulldogs to four playoff appearances in nine seasons.

"It's something I've always wanted to do," said Brian, who graduated from Ceres High in 1999 and is currently working towards a teaching credential in physical education at National University. "I was born and raised in Ceres. I grew up around the basketball program."

Athletic Director Glenn Driskell made the announcement on May 29.

Brian, 27, was interviewed two days earlier by a panel that consisted of Driskell, principal Bob Palous and associate principal Linda Stubbs.

"I think he'll do a very good job," Glenn said. "He's prepared."

Brian applied for Oakdale High School's head varsity boys basketball coaching position last year.

"That experience helped," he said. "It still took me about five to 10 minutes to really calm down. I was really nervous."

Brian has coached multiple sports at his alma mater the past eight years, including varsity boys tennis (three years), frosh-soph boys basketball (one year) and frosh boys hoops (four years). He also assisted Martin for two seasons.

Father Phil de la Porte taught U.S History for over 30 years and served as athletic director for 25 years at Ceres High. He's helped coach varsity girls basketball the past 10 seasons.

The school's gymnasium was named in honor of Phil in 2006.

"I just want to be known as having a classy program," Brian said. "I want to do everything the right way. I'm ready to go to work."

He inherits a program that graduated 6-foot-7 standouts Brett Sayad and Thomas Vanderlaan.

"I'm sure he'll be a good coach," said Brett, who played for de la Porte the past five summers. "He knows what he's talking about."

The Bulldogs could return as many as seven players, including Marcus Hilgen, Martino Bertolotti, Tony Bradford, Devaun McGregor, Rajdeep Singh, Lance Hunter and Justin Canatsy.

"I'm going to have to evaluate who we have coming back," de la Porte said. "There's no guarantees. Everybody is going to have to earn their spot."

Recently-hired math teacher Tony Hillyer will assist Brian. He taught and coached at Delhi High School last year.

Jim Pernetti will direct the junior-varsity squad. He filled the same position from 1986-2007.

Clinton Goblirsch will take over for Dave Wells at the frosh level.

The Bulldogs will play between 15-20 games this summer. They'll compete in tournaments in Escalon, Stockton and Turlock. Ceres High will also scrimmage Grace Davis, Patterson and Pitman.

"We're going to work hard," Brian said.

Ceres High finished 14-13 overall, 7-7 in conference play (three-way tie for third with Manteca and Sonora) in 2007-08. Intra-city rival Central Valley eliminated the Bulldogs fromplayoff contention on the final day of the regular season.

Asked if he would change Ceres High's identity, de la porte said: "For the most part, it's going to be pretty similar. But I'm going to open the offense up a little more."

Ceres High will continue to swarm and trap on defense.

Under Martin's guidance, the Bulldogs posted a combined record of 17-11 in the VOL the past two years. Ceres High placed third at 10-4 in 2006-07.

"It's a really competitive league," de la Porte said. "It's always been that way."

Weston Ranch will try to defend its conference title in 2008-09 without VOL Most Valuable Player James Nunnally and first-teamer Chris Gray. The recent graduates led the Cougars to a perfect 14-0 season.

Manteca and Sonora also have talented squads and should be considered serious contenders.

Sierra, Ceres High, Central Valley, East Union and Oakdale round out the eight-team conference.

"We're going to be small, but we're going to be quick," de la Porte said. "We're going to have to outwork everybody."

If needed, Brian's predecessor will provide valuable insight.

"Jason's one of my mentors," de la Porte said. "I coached under him for two years. I'll definitely be going to him for advice."