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PREP BASKETBALL * STATE CHAMPIONSHIPS | BOYS' BASKETBALL

Size Doesn't Matter in Title Game

March 16, 2001|BEN BOLCH

Mater Dei's enrollment is 1,515. Modesto Christian's is 270.

But the disparity won't affect the outcome of Saturday's state Division I championship game, coaches from both teams said.

"Only five guys can play at a time," Modesto Christian Coach Gary Porter said.

Said Mater Dei Coach Gary McKnight: "They are a very small school, but unfortunately their basketball team is very big. They've got a 6-7 guy [forward Chuck Hayes] going to Kentucky. And when you beat Concord De La Salle by 19, you're pretty good."

McKnight was referring to the Northern California Regional final, in which Modesto Christian defeated the defending state champion Spartans, 72-53.

The Crusaders (34-3) have stacked up admirably against the big boys in their first season in Division I. They beat Long Beach Poly and Inglewood and took Fresno Clovis West to the wire before losing, 95-94.

Mater Dei (32-2) defeated Clovis West, 80-62, in Saturday's Southern California Regional final, but the game was much closer than the score indicated.

Modesto Christian certainly doesn't have the tradition to stack up with Mater Dei, winner of three state titles and 15 section championships, but the Crusaders do have a history of success.

Modesto Christian won a Division V state title in 1997 and subsequently moved up to Division IV.

Last summer, Modesto Christian players voted to make the leap to Division I.

"We felt like we had the talent, and there was no use playing below," Porter said. "Our goal is not always winning state but playing the best [opposition]."

The Crusaders will get that opportunity at 8 p.m. Saturday at Arco Arena in Sacramento.

"We realize we're the underdog," Porter said, "but we're going in to win it. We don't plan on losing."

BUS STOP

McKnight has decided to shake up his team's travel plans as he tries to win his first state title in three attempts at Arco Arena. (Mater Dei has won all three of its titles in Oakland.)

For the first time in six state playoff trips, the Monarchs will travel by bus, not plane. They leave school at 8 this morning.

McKnight hopes traveling by bus won't pose the logistical problems that can accompany flying. "In the years we've flown," he said, "there's been delays."

Even though driving may take a lot longer than flying, McKnight likes the idea that he can control when to stop for a break and where his team eats. Plus, he reasons, bus rides can be more conducive to sleep and relaxation.

Mater Dei also gets to shoot some hoops en route. The team will stop at Los Banos High, about two hours south of Sacramento, for a shoot-around and walk-through. Try that on a Boeing 737.

DEPTH CHARGES

Porter said one of his biggest concerns is the quality of Mater Dei's bench.

"Our first five will be OK," he said. "Their next three will be better athletes than what we have. They could cause some problems."

The first three Monarchs off the bench usually are forward Harrison Schaen, a part-time starter, and guards Brian Baker and Travis Gabler.

The 6-foot-9 Schaen backs up or plays alongside center Jamal Sampson, giving Mater Dei tremendous height in the middle. Baker assists Shaun Michel and Cedric Bozeman with ballhandling duties, and Gabler provides a three-point threat. Though he has hoisted mostly airballs in the Monarchs' last few games, Gabler is shooting 40.7% from behind the three-point arc for the season.

Modesto Christian will counter with center William Patterson and guards Kevin Bonner and Jeff Porter, the coach's son. Porter only recently returned to the lineup after breaking a foot during football season. Patterson, the backup center, averages 2.8 points per game, and Bonner averages less than a point.

ODDS AND TIP-INS

Modesto Christian center David Paris gets his 6-8, 260-pound frame from his father Bubba, a former guard for the San Francisco 49ers. Paris and Crusader guard Richard Midgley, both juniors, are expected be major college players. . . . Modesto Christian, which was seeded second in the Northern California Regional playoffs, was seeded third in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division I playoffs because the Crusaders play a freelance schedule. . . . The Crusaders would not have been able to move up to Division I this season if they played in the Southern Section, which uses enrollment-based playoff divisions.

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