SALIDA -- Raymond Bowles is headed to Stockton's University of the Pacific on a basketball scholarship, so his future is set.
What Modesto Christian High's senior shooting guard wants to work on now is his legacy as a Crusader, which he hopes will include a championship in his school's Holiday Hoop Classic.
Modesto Christian took the first step toward a title with Wednesday's 68-56 victory over Granada Hills, but the team knows that much better efforts will be needed to win three more games in this tournament.
"We came out slow and we can't do that," Bowles said. "We have to start fast right away and take away some of the problems we had. It was an energy thing, and I believe I could have helped a lot with that."
Bowles did his part on the scoring side, tallying 14 of his game-high 21 points in the second half. But overall the Crusaders (7-1) appeared sluggish, even as they made their first home appearance of the season in front of a standing-room only crowd.
"It was disappointing," said Richard Midgley, MC's co-head coach. "We didn't come out with enough energy from the start, and I don't know what that was, being our first home game.
"We had a couple things we wanted to do defensively that we weren't executing and it took us too long to adjust."
Granada Hills (5-7) gave Modesto Christian problems with an active zone defense, and was able to control the game's pace with a patient halfcourt offense. It's the typical style that has given the up-tempo Crusaders problems over the years, but this year's team promised to be different given the depth MC boasts at guard.
For the first round, however, the Crusaders were without Zerrion Payton, on the bench for violating a team rule, and also without T.J. Wallace, the McNair transfer who represents so much of the Crusaders' attack on both ends. Wallace has a sprained pinky finger on his shooting hand, and his availability for the rest of the week is in question.
Bowles took those absences as a reason to assume more of a vocal leadership role.
"Since we didn't have T.J. the guys look at me more as a leader, and I don't think I was as vocal as I should have been on the floor," Bowles said. "So I'll take part of the blame for us coming out so slow."
Yes, his legacy is at stake. As a freshman, Bowles was part of the only MC team to go winless in this tournament. In each of the last two seasons the Crusaders have reached the semifinal round, only to lose their last two games.
"This tournament means a lot," Bowles said. "Since this is my last year I need to come out with a chip on my shoulder and realize I need to help my team win this one."
Modesto Christian never trailed against the Highlanders, of the San Fernando Valley, and the game was tied on only one occasion 24-24 just before halftime. On the other hand, the Crusaders never were able to get comfortable, and even more significant was that they never were able to fully assert their presence on defense.
"We're just trying to get into a certain mindset defensively and I don't know if we're buying into it enough right now," Midgley said. "It hurt us today and it's going to hurt us more down the road and might even result in a loss."
Granada Hills was able to hurt MC by hitting eight 3-pointers three apiece from Louis Fernando and sophomore Jason Horosny. Fernando led the Highlanders with 11 points.
"We didn't have a full scout on them, but from what we saw last year we figured every guy was a shooter," Midgley said. "So we needed to close-out hard, put pressure on the ball and pinch the gaps and we did none of that. We have some athletes and some talent and they didn't execute the way we wanted today."
Mason Washingon had three 3-pointers and finished with 14 points for MC, while freshman guard Christian Ellis made his high school career home debut with an 11-point effort.
Sure, it was a win.
But a team aiming as high as Modesto Christian aims virtually every year knows that wins are hollow if they don't include improvement.
"In the next game we will be better," Bowles said. "I want to be able to leave here being able to say that we won this tournament with me on the team."
Bee staff writer Brian VanderBeek can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2150.
'We came out slow and we can't do that'