LODI — There's no record of when this modern, curious ritual began that now starts every high school basketball game.
As each of the five starters are introduced, that player jogs over to shake the hand of the opposing coach before running out to join his teammates on the court.
For Modesto Christian coach Gary Porter, that handshake is a telling moment. A firm and dry handshake means the player is confident and emotionally ready to play.
"Last week, when the Argonaut kids came over and shook hands, all of them felt like wet fish," Porter said.
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The chief Crusader also shakes the hands of his own players prior to big games. Wednesday night, prior to MC's game against Encina, Porter made a point of giving the handshake test to D.J. Seeley.
Not that Seeley, a 6-foot-4-inch guard already earmarked to play next season at Cal, had anything in particular to worry about. Encina came into the game as a decided underdog, and proved worthy of that yoke as MC rolled to a 122-100 victory.
But this could have been a stumbling block game for Seeley, since it was played at Tokay High School — the place he spent the first three years of his high school career before transferring to MC.
If Seeley came into the game nervous, well, that would have been an acceptable reaction for a teenager. Entering the game, Seeley had no idea what kind of reception he would receive in his homecoming. He also wasn't worried.
"I think the majority is going to be on my side," Seeley said. "I've spoken to a few people from Tokay who said they were coming to the game. For some reason, I never hear the crowd when I play — never hear the comments — so none of that gets to me. I don't see this as a booing-type of situation and I haven't seen or felt anything like that from the people in Lodi since I left."
Any doubt Seeley had about not being welcomed back disappeared as soon as the MC team strolled into the sweltering Tokay gym. High on a wall across from the benches was a sign, in red and blue, "Welcome Back DJ We Miss You."
Nervous? No way. Seeley joined the rest of his teammates in scoring at will from the opening tap onward. He had 21 of his 30 points by halftime as the Crusaders built a 60-40 halftime lead — an improbable and somewhat unbelievable score for a high school game.
Seeley was a three-year starter at Tokay. The Tigers won the Division I section title and reached the NorCal final in 2006, but coach Dustin Lanz resigned just prior to the 2006-07 season.
"D.J. was always a joy to have around," said Lanz, who remains on the Tokay faculty and admitted being the artist behind Seeley's welcoming sign. "There's no doubt in my mind that D.J. made the right move by going to Modesto Christian."
Assistant Mack McDermott took over for a season, and Seeley averaged 25.4 points per game for a 10-17 team. McDermott now is an assistant coach at Edison of Stockton.
"They brought in a whole new staff and some players got cut and it was best for me to leave," Seeley said. "It wasn't because of any problems on the team."
There was another reason to leave Lodi. Seeley was a good student at Tokay until his junior year. As his scoring average soared, the grade-point average, according to his father Dennis Seeley, had dropped from 3.0 to 2.3.
"If D.J. doesn't come to Modesto Christian, he would have had a hard time getting into Cal," Porter said. "He was behind on a lot of work in a couple classes, and had to bring up grades in a couple other classes. Not that we're a better school than Tokay or anybody else, but here he can call a teacher and go to that house to be tutored. It's just not feasible to do that at large schools."
He went from a Division I school with an enrollment of 2,800 to a Division IV school with an enrollment of 287, and according to Porter is very close to meeting Cal's entrance requirements.
"This place has helped me get my grades in line," Seeley said. "That was the major part for me, since I had the basketball part locked down."
Prior to Thursday's game, Porter administered the handshake test. Seeley not only passed, but went on to play as if he were feeling very much at home.
Bee staff writer Brian VanderBeek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2300.