MARIPOSA -- When Trace DeSandres watches No. 41 blast through a thick of arms and elbows for a layup, the Mariposa boys basketball coach feels a sense of nostalgia.
Every single time.
Cody Wichmann, Mariposa's giant center, reminds him of someone.
A blast from the past.
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"There was a kid here once. I'm trying to think of his name. Mankins, I think. Yeah, that was the guy," DeSandres said playfully of New England Patriots offensive lineman Logan Mankins, a 2000 graduate of Mariposa High.
"There are definitely some similarities there. Logan didn't quite have the body that Cody has, but it's really amazing."
Logan was a three-sport star at Mariposa and, according to a recent Sun-Star poll, one of the top athletes of the past decade in Merced and Mariposa counties.
Wichmann has been the second coming of the grizzly star.
"The size and ability to move ... the kid's so big and his feet are so soft," Le Grand boys basketball coach Raul Alvarez said. "There are a lot of parallels with both of those players.
"It's unfair to say he's like Logan, or Logan's like Cody, but from a fan perspective, yeah, you can say 'He's like that one guy they used to have.' "
A carbon copy, really.
For starters, there's the overwhelming spectacle of their size and shape.
Cody is actually taller, wider and heavier than Mankins was as a senior. The 6-foot, 6-inch Wichmann weighs 280 pounds, bulking up after committing himself to the weightroom. Mankins was 6-foot-4 and 245 pounds.
Then there's the athletic prowess. Mankins was an MVP or all-Southern League player in football, basketball and baseball, and eventually accepted a football scholarship to Fresno State.
Wichmann is on the cusp of a basketball MVP and recently signed with Fresno State as a tight end.
"It's pretty cool to be matched up with him," Wichmann said. "At least once a day someone comes up to me. It's usually adults -- people who knew him. They'll say 'You're just as big as Logan' or that I remind them of him."
And like Mankins, Wichmann has positioned Mariposa for a deep run in the Sac-Joaquin Section basketball playoffs.
First things first, though.
Mariposa can put the finishing touches on its undefeated season in the Southern League tonight against two-win Waterford.
"We were hopeful. On paper, I knew we had the potential to win league and possibly go undefeated," DeSandres said. "But Le Grand is always tough. Denair is always tough. Anyone in our league is capable on any night."
However, DeSandres understands a win probably won't affect Mariposa's power rating.
Barring an upset loss, DeSandres expects Mariposa to stick at No. 6 when the playoff brackets are released on Sunday afternoon.
The 6-11 matchup could offer yet another interesting parallel in this growing bond between Wichmann and Mankins.
In 2000, Mariposa entered the postseason as a No. 5 seed. It drew Christian Brothers, defending Division IV section champion.
On that night Mankins' legend began to take shape. He scored 40 points in a first-round victory and 27 more in a loss to eventual finalist Colfax.
Looking at the latest release, DeSandres has a feeling Mariposa could wind up hosting...
You guessed it, Christian Brothers again.
"I think we're going to be at No. 6. As long as we win, we'll stay where we're at," DeSandres said. "The thing I don't know is who is going to be at 11. I'm really worried about Christian Brothers falling."
DeSandres' fears are tempered with one very large conviction: in his mind, Wichmann is one of the top post players in all the section.
Wichmann leads the area in scoring (19.4 points per game) and is second in rebounding (11.8).
"The last 10 games, Cody has come into his own in that he realizes he might be the best post player in the section," DeSandres said. "He's certainly one of the top 5.
"He sees the end coming. He knows that basketball is going to end really soon and he'll probably never play again."
His basketball career might be in its final paces, but the Mankins-Wichmann connection will continue to evolve at Fresno State.
The Bulldogs recruited Wichmann to play tight end, but could transform him into an offensive line.
"So far, it's looking like that," Wichmann said of their similar paths. "I'm just trying to be the best I can be -- just like he pursued his passion. We'll see where it takes me."
James Burns is managing editor/sports editor of the Sun-Star. He can be reached at email@example.com.