The 2016-17 season is underway for the Turlock Bulldogs and Pitman Pride boys’ basketball teams, with both sides boasting a co-Central California Conference title and a postseason berth.
Both teams had a different path en route to the CCC banner and this upcoming year looks to be an almost identical story with each side taking their own path and hopefully achieving their own personal successes.
“We lost like five seniors, but right now I am happy we are playing and everyone is here because this summer we learned a lot about ourselves,” said Pitman head coach Harvey Marable. “These guys just experienced a life lesson during the first practice.”
A teammate went into cardiac arrest within just minutes into the first official practice of the new season. The student, whose name was withheld, is currently stable and recovering, and the incident left a lasting impression on the other players.
“Just glad it all worked out well for him and we experienced a miracle to get through that,” said Marable “Then we have to play basketball, but now that becomes secondary, so now we are going to enjoy our season because our season is dedicated to that young man.”
Pitman's 16-9 overall record from a year ago, along with a postseason win, will be tough to repeat, but they do return two of the team’s top four scorers from last year in Isaiah Marable (8.6) and Dom Von Waaden (7.6).
“We have some guys who are not dressed and are injured but will be back before the season ends and we hope we can instill them to play together,” said Marable. “If they do that, with what we are capable, then our depth will help us out, lot of people who can fill in.”
Although a repeat of a CCC title might be possible, the Pride still need to go through Merced, Golden Valley, Atwater, Buhach Colony, and of course crosstown rivals, Turlock, if they hope to stand any chance.
“We want to hold ourselves accountable to when it comes to game time and make sure we do what we have learned and do it well,” said Marable. “That is our emphasis in supporting each other. It’s called SPECS: support, prepare, execute and compete.”
Turlock who has been a steady power in the CCC, especially recently, looks more inexperienced than they have in nearly a decade. For the first time in head coach Doug Cornfoot's tenure, they don't have a, “go-to” guy.
“This is the first year where it will be fun to see these guys grow knowing I will have them for a couple years to come,” said Cornfoot. “It's going to be a team effort, it’s going to take all the guys because on a different game, any person on this team can lead in any category any night.”
Only Shawn Grewal and Mustafa Noel-Johnson return from a playoff team from a year ago that went 9-19 overall, including a CCC record of 8-2 that led to the split for the CCC crown with Pitman.
They ultimately fell to Pitman in the D-I Sac-Joaquin Section tournament, having lost three of their last four to end the year.
“We set two goals last year before we started which was to win league and make playoffs and so we did. We made playoffs so we met our goals,” said Cornfoot.
The upside to it all is the team welcomes a large number of juniors who have been successful during their first two years. As freshmen and last year as sophomores, they won the CCC title in consecutive years.
“So expectations are they have been successful so we are expecting them to be successful at this level,” said Cornfoot. “We play a tough preseason schedule so there will be growing pains and I expect that and hopefully it makes us better.”
The team will look to Arik Bains, Adrian Espinoza and Cameron Sherwood along with Everett Johnson.
“They know their responsibilities and know that if we know to play as a team and do what we are good at we will be in good shape,” Cornfoot added. “One good thing about our league is that they are all great coaches, they all prepare well for games and there is no team out there that is not prepared when you play them and that is a testament as to why our league is competitive is because they are all ready.”
Turlock will take on Davis on the road at 6 p.m. Tuesday.
Pitman takes on Enochs at 5:30 p.m. Friday.