Call it a mutual admiration society, but from afar.
The boys' basketball teams from Modesto Christian and Sierra high schools have been ranked 1-2 in the Stanislaus District all season, and they certainly are familiar with each other's reputation.
The Crusaders have been the top program in the district since Gary Porter arrived as head coach in 1996, rolling up a 477-95 record and an unprecedented 14 section titles.
Sierra, which opened in 1994, has emerged as the district's top public schools program during Scott Thomason's 13 years at the helm, going 205-79 over the last 10 seasons while still looking for a first section crown.
The afar part of this? Separated by only 13 miles, the two schools never have met on the court.
That changes tonight when the Crusaders (27-3) and Timberwolves (27-4) meet tonight at 9 o'clock for the Sac-Joaquin Section Division 3 boys' title at Sacramento's Sleep Train Arena.
"Scott's a very good coach and he gets better and better every year, and does a lot every year with the talent he has," Porter said. "He has the all the respect I can give him, and I know they'll be ready for us."
The annual two-day, 10-game hoopfest is short on District participation this year. Of the four games on today's docket, only the late tilt features teams from the district.
Saturday's six-game schedule is graced locally only by Summerville (26-3), which will be shooting for its first boys' hoops section title when it meets Liberty Ranch of Galt (22-8) for the Division 4 boys' title at 3 p.m.
Despite never having met, there are no secrets in the scouting reports.
Modesto Christian is big and powerful and likes to run, but is taking additional pride in its ability to play team defense. Sierra is not particularly big, but its guards are active and the Timberwolves always have stressed defense first and foremost.
"We're going to prepare like we do always, for every team, because there always are matchups we have to prepare for," said Thomason, a graduate of Turlock High and the University of the Pacific, where he played for his father, outgoing Tigers' coach Bob Thomason. As an aside, MC's top two seniors Raymond Bowles and T.J. Wallace, have signed to play basketball at UOP.
"We're not going to change who we are and what we do," Thomason said. "I got a little cute last year with some matchups and did some things I wish I could take back. This time, we're going to play Sierra basketball."
The Timberwolves lost to Foothill 74-52 in last year's Division 3 title game. Sierra's only other championship game trip resulted in a 48-47 loss to Riverbank in 2001.
Modesto Christian's streak of 11 straight section titles, coming in Divisions 1, 5 and 4, was snapped in 2011. The Crusaders took care of Trans-Valley League rival Ripon 68-46 in last year's Division 4 championship game.
They've been moved up to Division 3 this year, where they will stay until a possible move into the Modesto Metro Conference in 2014 could force another leap. The Crusaders are likely to be selected to play in the new Open Division playoffs in the NorCal regional tournament, which starts Wednesday.
"We do a little more with the opposition's tendencies as we get deeper in the playoffs," Porter said. "We still obviously need to focus on what we do, and that's where basketball is different than football.
"In basketball teams run a couple defenses a zone or a man-to-man and a few offensive sets. It's not like Sierra is going to come out running the Veer or the Cox Box."
In addition to having to face a well-prepared Sierra team, Porter has another concern tonight's starting time.
"It's a great time of year, but by halftime it will be my bedtime," Porter said. "I hope the game's exciting so I don't fall asleep."
Brian VanderBeek can be reached at (209) 578-2150 or follow him on Twitter, @modestobeek
Finals at Sleep Train ArenaToday
Division 3 boys
No. 2 Sierra (27-4) vs. No. 1 Modesto Chr. (27-3), 9 p.m.
SaturdayDivision 4 boys
No. 4 Liberty Ranch (22-8) vs. No. 2 Summerville (26-3), 3 p.m.