The 76th Modesto Junior College Basketball Tournament, the city’s longest-running sports event, enters a new era with renewed energy.
It’s fortified this year by a new title sponsor in Grower Direct Nut Company headed by ex-Pirate Ron Martella, its first legitimate 16-team field since 1996 and a major marketing push.
Today’s four-game program, featuring Contra Costa vs. MJC at 6 p.m., tips off a hoops jamboree, 24 games in five days capped by Saturday night’s final.
The marathon is normal. What’s not normal is the outreach to the community via promotions and other tournament-related projects. The goal is clear – better attendance and more fun at this tradition-steeped tournament.
“The fact that we have 16 teams again is the biggest part, and now we’ve got backing with the sponsorship of the Martella family,” MJC coach Paul Brogan said. “That’s what we always wanted.”
Less than two years ago, proposed new state rules nearly forced MJC to downsize the event to only eight teams. That legislation didn’t pass, to Modesto’s relief.
Another brushfire lit when Imperial Valley dropped out of the bracket last August, and Brogan was forced to fill with the Simpson junior varsity. To the rescue came Contra Costa only two weeks ago, however, as the field returned to whole. Seven tournaments are held this week up and down California, but none match the volume or quality of MJC.
“It’s a good field with a variety of different types of teams,” Brogan said. “It should make for some great games, especially from the second round on. We should also have some good first-round games.”
Nick Stavrianoudakis, director of public affairs for the Yosemite Community College District, and the tournament committee also have scheduled special promotions for each night:
• All MJC students will be admitted free tonight.
• All veterans will be admitted free Wednesday.
• All students of any grade level will walk through the door for only $1 during Thursday’s eight-game second round.
• Seniors will be admitted for $1 on Friday, which is also Legends Night. All MJC basketball alumni will be recognized, including the 50-year reunion of the 1963 team. Expected to attend are 1963 coach Pete Sullivan, Martella from that team, former coach Leon LaFaille, and former MJC all-tournament stars Lee Wade (1948) and Willie Rock (1953).
• All kids from any sports team, whether at school or in youth leagues, will be admitted for $1 if they’re wearing their jerseys for Saturday night’s championship.
• Special drawings for various prizes, including tickets to Stanford and Golden State Warrior games, also will be staged each night.
City College of San Francisco will not defend its title, but Fresno City – the tournament’s only 10-time champion – is back. The high-velocity Rams have won it five times since 2006.
Modesto, which finished fourth last year, has teetered up and down through the first month. The Pirates have not played since their tough loss at Reedley eight days ago, and Brogan expects some early-season injuries to heal before tonight’s game.
“How much we grew from last week to now will be seen in the first round,” the coach said. “This tournament is so difficult. You have to be good for four straight nights to win.”