High School Sports

Local hoops powerhouses retool, reload

Allen Huddleston's play will be key if Merced is to succeed against its opponents in the Central California conference this season.
Allen Huddleston's play will be key if Merced is to succeed against its opponents in the Central California conference this season. The Merced Sun Star

Modesto High, historically among the Stanislaus District's most prominent public school basketball programs, is rebuilding following the departure of Bee Player of the Year Sammy Yeager.

Modesto Christian, one of the state's private-school powers during the last decade, is reloading with the instant offensive firepower that will come from transfer guard D.J. Seeley.

Those new-look programs are two of the storylines that will play out this season, and the ability of their new players to adjust to new roles will be clear by the time the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs open in February.

Modesto coach Don Wallace and MC's Gary Porter warn not to expect too much from their teams in the early season, considering the shift in philosophy at Modesto and the absence of Seeley from MC's lineup.

"D.J. will be eligible December 26, our first home game against Bridgemont of San Jose," said Porter, whose Crusaders lost to Fremont of Oakland and defending Division V state champ Branson in last weekend's Gridley Tournament. "It's going to be pretty much what you normally see: We'll go fullcourt and press, and then run. D.J. will be a big help."

The 6-foot-3-inch Seeley, who led the section in scoring with 25 points per game last season at Tokay of Lodi, has committed to Cal. He'll join 6-7 Reeves Nelson, ranked among the top junior forwards in the nation by recruiting services, to give MC a 1-2 punch.

While Seeley typically plays at a fast pace start to finish, Nelson has trouble maintaining intensity -- though he also has stretches of dominance, such as in last season's Division V section final win over Capital Christian of Sacramento. MC and Capital were elevated to Division IV this season.

Across town at Modesto High, guards Nate Jackson and Chipper Lemmo will be looking inside to 6-8 Matt Vermeulen and 6-7 Josh Jones. The offense last season ran through Yeager, who was comfortable shooting once he crossed halfcourt. As good an offensive player as Yeager was, he was an erratic outside shooter and too often disdained playing defense.

This season's squad lacks a dominant scorer, but Wallace expects better defense and a balanced offense. He'll need it, with Davis, Downey and Beyer ready to battle the Panthers in the Modesto Metro Conference.

The Central California Conference is the district's most competitive. Merced, Turlock, Golden Valley and Pitman -- The Bee's top-ranked large school -- are ranked in The Bee's top 10 for large schools.

The CCC's strength is in the backcourt with Merced's duo of Allen Huddleston and Jarrett Sparks, Turlock's tandem of Efrem Harris and 6-3 sophomore Travis Souza, and Pitman's Austin Keaton.