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The Road to Selland: Central Section Division I boys’ basketball preview


By Gabe Camarillo

A look at every Division I boys’ basketball team in the Central Section:

16 Edison at 1 Clovis North

9 Buchanan at 8 Bakersfield Christian

12 Arroyo Grande at 5 Clovis East

13 Central at 4 Bullard

11 Sanger at 6 Centennial

14 Liberty at 3 St. Joseph

10 Clovis at 7 San Joaquin Memorial

15 Lemoore at 2 Clovis West

All first round games Tuesday, Feb. 13 at 6 p.m. 

Quarterfinals Thursday, Feb. 15 at 6 p.m.


  1. Clovis North (23-6, 9-1 TRAC)

Dartmouth-bound point guard Connor Amundsen leads the team with 19.3 points and 5.3 assists per game. Loukas Jones averages about 12 points per night, most of them scored off mid-range and 3-point shots. Jordan Espinoza is a jack-of-all-trades on the court and leads the top defense in the TRAC (54.9 ppg allowed in league play) with three steals a game.

That trio of Broncos were pivotal pieces when Clovis North marched to the Division I CIF state championship game two years ago. Amundsen missed all of last year to shoulder surgery, and Clovis North fell in the Central Section quarterfinal round. The collective playoff experience on Clovis North and the chip on their shoulder are a dangerous combo for other teams. 


  1. Clovis West (24-5, 9-1 TRAC)

The Golden Eagles advanced to the Open Division or Division I Central Section final three times in the previous four years. That means four-year varsity guys Jackson Young and Zach Chauhan hold no reservations about competing on the big stage. Young could take over games with his 3-point shooting – he made the dagger trey to beat St. Joseph in the 2022 Open final – and the springy Chauhan makes a living inside the paint, scoring and rebounding.

Clovis West has developed an exceptionally strong paint presence thanks to 6-foot-9 junior Chris Baudreau. Baudreau posted 18 points and 15 rebounds in a 60-59 win over No. 1 Clovis North, ended by DJ Stickman dribbling coast-to-coast for the game-winning layup. 

Stickman has taken strides toward stardom since last season, and he joins Baudreau as the kind of athletic two-way playmakers that Clovis West didn’t have enough of against St. Joseph last year. Now they do.


  1. St. Joseph of Santa Maria (27-2, 10-0 Mountain)

To beat the Knights, one must stop the greatest one-two punch in the Central Section, Tounde Yessoufou and Julius Price. Like Kyrie and LeBron in Cleveland, or Kobe and Shaq in L.A., they have 3-point shooters to feed in Gunner Morinini and Ramon Cota. Defenses must respect Morinini and Cota as they shoot 48% and 38% from beyond the arc, respectively.

Those two benefit from open looks thanks to defenses so focused on limiting Yessoufou. The 6-foot-6 junior ranked fourth in California with 34.2 ppg, added 10.5 rebounds per contest, and drew comparisons to Jimmy Butler in the L.A. Times.

Price, averaging 20 points and seven assists per game, is arguably the best shooter in the Section. His splits – 58% FG, 46% 3pt, and 74% FT. 

The Knights make threes and attack the rim with Tounde; it’s how they beat six out-of-state teams, four of whom ranked Top 10 of their respective state. 


  1. Bullard (22-7, 10-0 CMAC)

Is this the best Bullard team Tim Amundsen has coached? Not quite, but it’s close. The Knights’ 22 wins sit only behind the 2018-19 team’s 26 for most during Tim’s tenure. This team is undoubtedly one of his deepest, as proven by Bullard’s 67-62 win over San Joaquin Memorial without starting point guard Ja’Vance Coleman Jr. (broken foot).

Sophomore Dalen Felder has risen to the occasion and taken the scoring lead, switching between drives toward the basket and pull-ups from beyond the arc. He has the court vision to find Kyshawn Johnson and Jaleel Jackson for dunks and layups. The two seniors are defensive pests and rim-protectors, and sixth man James Miranda embodies the same defensive prowess that Bullard has become known for. The Knights held Clovis East to two points in the third quarter of their 56-53 win.


  1. Clovis East (18-10, 5-5 TRAC)

The Timberwolves showed an ability to hang with top-tier competition when they led throughout a narrow 65-62 loss to Clovis West. One could argue that Clovis East’s best is yet to come with four sophomores and a freshman part of its rotation. Yet the T’Wolves arrived ahead of schedule and earned a Top 5 seed because the youngsters meshed well with the senior nucleus of versatile wing Jeremy Pierro and inside-out scorer McKay Olson.

Steady bench production separates Clovis East from others in Division I. Donyell Booker Jr. dropped 20 points in a dominant win over Central last Tuesday, and freshman Asher Thompson quickly established himself among the best big men in the TRAC. He and Pierro averaged 10 points apiece during league play.


  1. Centennial of Bakersfield (23-6, 8-0 River)

The Golden Hawks knew they would be very good in 2023-24. Centennial returned five stellar seniors who played leading roles in the undefeated league title run last season. Then they exceeded the hype and ran it back, even beating in-town rival Bakersfield Christian by 11 and holding Sierra Canyon to its third-lowest scoring total. 

Rippen Gill already scored at a high clip, but he combined his 18.6 ppg with 4.4 steals per night and completed his development as Kern County’s best all-around player. Head coach Hernan Santiago is most pleased to see Gill grow defensively.

Goodwill Famosoh and Jaxton Santiago bring down 8.2 and 7.3 rebounds per game, respectively. Junior Michael Gutierrez emerged as the team’s best shooter, knocking down 36% of his treys and averaging 14 ppg. Other Division I wins for the G-Hawks include Sanger (57-50) and Edison (67-55).


  1. San Joaquin Memorial (18-10, 7-3 CMAC)

The Panthers rebuilt a state title-winning roster that lost three starters and did it through returning star power and up-and-coming underclassmen. Sophomore Sajinn Sidhu averaged 14 ppg in league play. Fellow sophomore Parker Spees, a smooth 6-foot-7 sharpshooter, missed most of league play but returned from an ankle injury last week.

Junior Abram Potts poses another perimeter threat for opponents, and Julius Olanrewaju plays the role of “point forward” and feeds the shooters while scoring his buckets at all three levels. He came close to posting a triple-double multiple times in league play. Center Dre Davis paced the Panthers with 15.8 ppg in the CMAC. 

Davis’ double-double threat completes the Panthers’ starting five; they have it all – size, shooting, and experience. Defense and bench production will determine how much noise they make in the playoffs.


  1. Bakersfield Christian (18-10, 8-0 Valley)

The dynamic duo of junior Gabriel Gutierrez and senior Bentley Waller helped the Eagles upset Clovis North last year. Both guards raised their game since then; Waller reached 20.3 ppg and Gutierrez added 17.8 points and four assists a game. 

The Eagles must step up their paint presence to reach the Division I semifinals again, and it begins with tantalizing freshman Taiwo Daramola. The 6-foot-7 center complements the older guards well on offense, but his shot-blocking could be a game-changer against plenty of smaller D-I teams trying to drive inside the lane. 


  1. Buchanan (19-8, 5-5 TRAC)

There are many worthy candidates for Coach of the Year, but Tom Orlich makes the strongest argument. He took over midseason for Ed Madec last year and weathered an 8-17 season where Buchanan lost all 10 TRAC games. The Bears were bounced in the first round of the D-II playoffs – but fast forward 12 months, Orlich’s first full season featured an 11-win improvement and Top 10 finish in the Section. 

They beat Clovis East by 15 in the first meeting and fell short by a buzzer-beater to San Joaquin Memorial. They proved they could hang with the higher seeds through brute force; 6-foot-8 Brayden Harris and 6-foot-5 Karsyn Van Grouw headline a physical, defensive-minded team of mostly underclassmen that stand 6 feet or taller. Connor Sheets sparks the offense with his outside shooting.


  1. Clovis (12-17, 2-8 TRAC)

The Cougars played San Joaquin Memorial close on Dec. 5, entering the fourth quarter within one before falling, 63-50. Defense is Clovis’ bread and butter with its length and the shot-blocking of center Jackson Scarborough. 

Matt Williams and Tre Sanderson averaged 12 ppg in league play, and the growing confidence of senior point guard Dilibe Allison helped Clovis improve in the second half of TRAC play. If they could get consistent scoring from the entire starting five, watch out for the Cougars. 


  1. Sanger (16-11, 5-5 CMAC)

The Apaches are a tough out because of their 3-point shooting and physical presence down low. Nolan Willison is a shooter opponents must account for all 32 minutes because his hot hand could single-handedly swing games, like when he drained three 3’s in a row in a fourth-quarter comeback win over Clovis. 

Against Clovis East, Micah Cole kept it close by hitting a couple of treys. The inside-out production of the 6-foot-7 Cole will be invaluable against an equally big Centennial team.  Sanger’s leading scorer Caleb Ramirez feasts on rebounds for second-chance opportunities. Steady senior point guard Kevin Chambers knows how and when to feed Ramirez in the post. 


  1. Arroyo Grande (22-7, 8-2 Mountain)

Arroyo Grande is the sleeper pick in Division I. Nobody outside of St. Joseph, Clovis West, and Clovis East has seen them, but the Eagles return seven guys from a Central Section championship unit. They face the T’Wolves again Tuesday, looking to avenge their 78-75 loss back on Dec. 1.

The Eagles are senior-heavy and smaller than in years past, having one player over 6-foot-2 and none over 6-foot-3, but they all know how to slash and shoot. George Keskinov sank six 3-pointers in a January win over Mission Prep, and fellow seniors Nicholas Simmons and Zach Soriano have guided the team to double-digit wins over every Mountain League team except St. Joseph.


  1. Central (11-17, 0-10 TRAC)

The Grizzlies landed in Division I and passed the eye test for anyone who watched them walk into the gym. They are very long and athletic but also very young. Sophomores Myron Pondexter-Johnson and Brandon Smith finish well around the basket. Senior Brandon Ezell is a high-volume shooter from beyond the arc. Rebounding and perimeter defense will determine how far the Grizzlies advance.


  1. Liberty of Bakersfield (16-13, 3-5 River)

The Patriots’ best in-section win came against Division II No. 6 seed Frontier by 19 points. They are 0-5 against Division I competition, but their strength of schedule lifted them into the top bracket.

Instead of making a run in D-II, Liberty will face defending D-I champion St. Joseph in Santa Maria in the expanded 16-team field. Winning will require a Herculean effort from returning leading scorer Deshawn Usochu, the tallest Patriot on the floor at 6-foot-3.


  1. Lemoore (20-9, 7-3 West Yosemite)

Lemoore competed in Division II for 15 years but reached Division I status for the first time in program history, all because of its 74-63 win over Edison on Jan. 20. If not for that, the Central Section wouldn’t have seeded Lemoore above Edison, and Lemoore would likely be the No. 2 seed in D-II based off the final computer numbers.

Nonetheless, to pull off the upset over Clovis West, leading scorer Kaden Lopes will have to be special. He averages 18 ppg and possesses a potent pull-up jumper. Kobe Green fills the stat sheet with his quickness, posting 11 points, four assists, and three steals per contest.


  1. Edison (13-16, 5-5 CMAC) 

Edison starts five seniors, each with their individual strength. Va’Ron Mitchell and Ray Brown provide scoring. Wendell Ware takes charges and guards the opponent’s best player. Kam Bowen rebounds and flips in putbacks, and Dereon King fires away from 3-point range.

If the group coalesces, locks in defensively, and most importantly, avoids turnovers – which has been difficult at times without a true point guard – then the Tigers will be competitive against anyone they play.

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