Talent, Leadership, Experience — And A Little Grit — Brought Ridgeview Its First Title Since 2013.
Story by Trevor Horn | Photos by Samuel Stringer
FRESNO — A crowd began to arrive at Selland Arena in downtown Fresno for the Central Section Division II boys basketball championship game.
This wasn’t your everyday crowd for this type of game.
First, injured New Orleans Pelicans guard Quincy Pondexter walked in the building. Soon, Fresno State coach Rodney Terry joined Pondexter courtside.
UNLV coach Marvin Menzies showed up along with Bakersfield-native Justin Hudson, an assistant coach at San Diego State.
All had a vested interest for one reason or another to watch Ridgeview-Bakersfield take on San Joaquin Memorial-Fresno in a title game that felt much bigger than its divisional placement.
For the second consecutive year, Ridgeview was the No. 1 seed in the section Div. II playoffs. The Wolf Pack left Selland with a bad taste one year earlier after it underestimated Lemoore in the 2016 title game.
This time around, Ridgeview (24-2), led by Long Beach State-bound senior Jordan Roberts and Justin McCall, who is staying home to play at Cal State Bakersfield, played the role of a veteran squad en route to beating Memorial 74-64 for the program’s third section title and first since 2013.
“This is a blessing to win this year,” Ridgeview coach Michael Martin said. “It’s not easy to get here. Last year was so bitter for us. But this team worked so hard to get back here, and the boys played their butts off to become champions.”
McCall and Roberts have garnered the headlines in Bakersfield all season, but that crowd inside Selland wasn’t just for those two college-bound seniors.
There is a lot of intrigue in Memorial (25-6) freshman Jalen Green, arguably the biggest big-time college prospect to come out of the Central Valley since, well, former Memorial star Pondexter. Green didn’t disappoint early, along with 6-foot-7 sophomore Deon Stroud, also a college prospect, Memorial led 20-13 after the first quarter behind two highlight-reel dunks by Stroud and plenty of next-level dribbling, passing and shooting from Green.
“Give it up to Jalen, that kid is really good and put us on our heels early on,” Roberts said.
Green scored a game-high 23 points, 13 coming in the opening quarter. His shooting 75 percent shooting percentage (9-of-12) was not common for anyone in the cavernous space inside the arena, let alone a freshman. But Green is not your everyday freshman. He was announced as a member of the USA U16 junior national team in 2016.
Take notice that Green took just 12 shots in the title game, and there is a reason for that. Memorial took a 30-17 lead in the second quarter off a breakaway by Green, prompting a timeout by Martin. His words were simple and direct, to stop the Panthers is to limit the production of Green.
Martin put either McCall or junior guard L.J. Zeigler man-to-man on Green the rest of the night, sometimes doubling him on the perimeter. Through that defensive approach, Ridgeview stalled the offensive flow of Memorial and began to make a comeback.
“We knew when they came out hot that it was their one big punch,” McCall said. “But we fought back. We took some big hits, but we hit back and won the fight.”
The analogy between boxing and basketball is an easy one for this game. Ridgeview was the seasoned veteran led by three, three-year starters, including Quentin Croney. Memorial was the young up-and-comer looking to outmaneuver and out-punch the veteran.
But like a veteran does, it finds a way to win and show some pizzazz of its own.
Roberts was almost non-existent in the first quarter for Ridgeview. In the regular season finale two weeks prior, Roberts rolled his left ankle during the third quarter against neighborhood-rival Independence-Bakersfield. Roberts left the game. X-Rays came back negative and it was a matter of rest and recovery.
Ridgeview had a bye in the first round and Roberts played five minutes in the first half of the quarterfinals against Tulare Union. But, with the Tribe up by nine at the half, Roberts pleaded with his coach to leave him in during the second half. He scored 13 points and Ridgeview won 58-48 then had their way with Redwood-Visalia in the semifinals, 85-67.
But the first eight minutes in the finals were not vintage Roberts.
“Justin (McCall) came up to me and said the expectations for me were higher than that,” Roberts said. “So I sucked it up for team. I am not sitting here making excuses for my ankle. I knew I needed to turn it up.”
Roberts scored all of his team-high 19 points in the second and third quarters as McCall scored 18 and Croney — a scrappy guard who has become a viable 3-point threat for Ridgeview — added 16. Ridgeview took the lead on a Croney free throw in the third quarter and never trailed afterward, outscoring Memorial 43-27 in the second half.
“The three of us have been together since seventh grade at Stonecreek (Middle School),” Croney said. “We knew we didn’t want a repeat of last year. This is amazing.”
The title is a fourth for Martin, but his first as the boys basketball coach at Ridgeview. Martin coached the girls program to three section titles in four years with Stanford senior Erica McCall on roster.
“This may be my fourth, but that means nothing,” Martin said. “It’s all about these boys and how hard they worked for this.”
Erica is the older sister of Justin McCall and their dad, Greg, is the women’s basketball coach at Cal State Bakersfield.
With dad coaching in Utah, it was one of the rare nights he wasn’t in the stands. Erica, one to keep up with her brother’s season via Twitter, was quick to send a congratulatory tweet to her brother. Meanwhile, Justin was ready to let her sister know he has a title now, too.
“I’m going to tell her that know she’s not the only one in the family with a Valley title,” Justin said. “I finally got one.”