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Turlock, Pitman boys gearing up for winter season
Turlock boys basketball
Turlock boys basketball coach Nick Nathanson watches his team during a recent practice at the Turlock High School (JOE CORTEZ/The Journal).


Turlock Journal

The Bulldogs of Turlock High are seeking a repeat of last season’s success, while the Pride is a small, but dedicated team with one goal in mind - improve game by game.

Turlock Bulldogs

Coach: Nick Nathanson, second season
2021: 20-8 overall, 8-2 in league, CCAL title, second-round of Sac-Joaquin Section Division I playoffs

Key losses: Daniel Malagon, PG, 5-11, 150; Kyle Ericksen, SG, 6-2, 140; Michael Heidelbach PF, 6-3, 150; Luke Levake, F,  6-2, 150; Gavin Levake, F, 6-2, 160.
Key returners: Gavin Cox, Sr., C, 6-8, 185; Andrew Johnson, Jr., SF, 6-5, 180; Jed Ladine, Sr., PG, 6-1, 155.

Outlook: When Nick Nathanson took the job as Turlock High’s boys basketball coach last fall, he did so knowing that he’d start the season with players who were completely unfamiliar with his system.

Nevertheless, Nathanson managed to guide the Bulldogs to their first conference title in six years and 20 wins for the first time in more than a decade.

As the 2022-23 campaign gets underway, Turlock players not only have a full season of experience running Nathanson’s system, they’ve also participated in the coach’s offseason program.

There’s not many of those players, mind you, since the Bulldogs graduated nine seniors off last year’s squad, but the second-year coach doesn’t see that as a problem. 

“I’m actually expecting us to do better this season,” said Nathanson. “You can’t put a lot of stock in summer league or fall league, but we had a really successful offseason and our defense has gotten better.”

Nathanson is a defensive-minded coach — he employs the matchup-zone (“Amoeba”) defense used by Hall of Fame coach John Chaney at Temple University. It’s a complicated enough system for collegians, let alone high school players.

That’s where the offseason program comes into play.

“It’s huge,” said Nathanson, a native of Oyster Bay, N.Y., who migrated from the East Coast to Southern California before landing in Turlock. “Having a complete offseason with them, they know what we value as a program, they know the points of emphasis, they know we’re a defensive-minded program.”

Nathanson’s goal for Turlock is to hold opponents to below 50 points per game, making them work so hard on offense that they have no energy left to defend when Turlock has the ball.

“The idea is that we give up nothing inside the paint and nothing inside the 3-point line,” said Nathanson. “If teams are going to beat us, they’re going to have to hit about 15 contested 3’s.”

Offensively, the Bulldogs will rely heavily on 6-8 center and league MVP candidate Gavin Cox.

The Bulldogs are 1-1 so far this season, having beaten McNair 61-37 — Cox led all scorers with 20 points — and falling to Atwater 55-50. They’ll play Bear Creek (Stockton) tonight at 7:30 p.m. in the opening round of the Manteca Boosters Tournament.

Pitman Pride

 Head coach: Harvey Marable, 19th season

2021-22 record: 13-12 overall, 5-5 CCAL

Key losses: Robert Salmon, small forward

Key returners: Avery Sanchez, sophomore, point guard; Justin Anderson, junior, guard; Seth Vink, senior, guard

Pitman boys basketball
Pitman senior guard Seth Vink hopes that the hard work his team is putting in during practice pays off so that the Pride can make a playoff run (CHRISTOPHER CORREA/The Journal).

Speaking with members of the Pitman High varsity boys basketball team, the two terms that were most repeated were “chemistry” and “family.” It’s an important mindset for a team whose roster only consists of nine players.

“I like who we are right now,” said longtime head coach Harvey Marable. “The boys are getting along, they have a good comradery. It’s been a very nice start to this season, even with a smaller group. It’s been a nice opportunity for them to become closer together and connected.”

The start Marable refers to couldn’t have gone any better as the Pride are 2-0 in the preseason. One of the things that Marable credits is the experience, as six of the nine players are returning from last year.

“Our experience is really important because we’ve built that chemistry on and off the court with six guys returning from last year. It all builds on the court,” said junior guard Justin Anderson. “We know it feels like to fall a little short, so the experience helps us. All of us out here are really excited because I see a lot of hard work and a lot of dedication.”

One person who stands out to Marable is senior guard Seth Vink, who enters his third year on varsity.

“My sophomore year was hard being around the seniors,” Vink admitted. “It was hard but I put in the work. It’s important for me mentally [Coach Marable] to believe in me because I think too much. I need to go out there and play more. But every day we’re trying to build.”

Being on the brink of playoff season, the desire to get better everyday is strong with all the players.

“Coming up just short of playoffs was tough, but we just put our heads down and go to work… I know we can make a run at it this year,” Anderson said.

To accomplish that goal, the Pride will also rely on the leadership of Avery Sanchez, a sophomore who was named a captain last season.

“I had a pretty decent season last year as a freshman, I was able to get that experience. I think we’ve created a good bond this year,” Sanchez said.

And while the team hopes that their hard work pays dividends on the court, Marable believes that his team is already making strides off of it.

“My mission is for them to enjoy a sport and for them to grow as a player and a person,” Marable said. “I’m excited to see them grow as the season goes on.”