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Optimistic Bunch
Ceres High School's varsity boys basketball team underachieved during Brian de la Porte's first year at the helm in 2008-09.

"If I did a better job coaching last season, we could have gone 14-12 instead of 8-18," de la Porte said. "I definitely learned a lot."

Ceres High will try to turn things around in 2009-10.

The Bulldogs' roster consists of 14 players, including five seniors in Justin Canatsy (guard), Mark Schwark (G), Katero Lebeau (G), Lance Hunter (forward) and Vineel Kumar (F), and nine juniors in John Dhillon (G), Edgar Lopez (G), Hadon Lopez (G), Beau Pimentel (F), Tyler Cummings (F), Chris Hilgen (F), Kendall Vertner (F), George Borden (F) and Mehtab Sekhon (F).

"I think we're a lot more flexible this year," de la Porte said. "We can go big. We can go small and be quick. The dynamic of our bench is completely different. Our depth could be an advantage for us."

Canatsy, a sharp-shooting guard, and Hunter, a versatile forward, are third-year varsity players.

"I enjoy being a leader," Justin said. "It kind of comes natural to me."

Schwark and Dhillon make up the Bulldogs' backcourt.

Lebeau, Lopez, Cummings and Kumar will be key reserves.

"We're pretty deep compared to last year," Canatsy said. "We're going to be way better. We should contend for league and get into the playoffs for sure. I have confidence in my teammates."

Pimentel, a 6-foot-2, 185-pound center, will miss part of the Valley Oak League season with a knee injury sustained at the Modesto City Classic last month. He played a major role in guiding Ceres High's frosh-soph boys basketball program to a league title as a sophomore.

"It hurts," de la Porte said. "That's our best big guy."

Ceres High tied for last place at 3-11 in the VOL with East Union and Oakdale last season.

The Bulldogs finished one game behind crosstown rival Central Valley, which swept the conference series (52-45, 53-50). Reigning conference champion Manteca returns a handful of key players, including guards Kiwi Gardner (19.8 points. 6.0 assists, 2.7 steals, 2.1 rebounds) and Ernie Pimentel (11.1 points, 3.2 assists, 2.8 rebounds, 1.4 steals).

"I honestly believe the first-place team could have two or three losses," de la Porte said. "The league's so tough this year. I think we have a chance to compete with everybody. Manteca is the team to beat. We got some guys that can match up with them."

Manteca defeated Ceres High twice on its way to claiming its first VOL championship in 20 years a season ago. The Buffaloes (24-4, 13-1) routed the Bulldogs 58-34 at Phil de la Porte Gymnasium.

"We put that score up every single day at practice," de la Porte said. "I don't want us to ever forget about that. I know our kids can do better."

"We're not underestimating Central Valley but our main goal is Manteca," Canatsy said. "It's our motivation everyday. We should have competed with them last year."