Fresno, CA – This past weekend, November 24th and 25th, Demetrius Porter (director of Fresno-based EBO club basketball program) and Jarvis Turner (head coach at Beverly Hills High School Basketball) hosted the 2nd Annual Heart of California Basketball Classic at Fresno State University’s Save Mart Center Arena. Last year’s headliner game was between San Joaquin Memorial of Fresno and Sierra Canyon of Chatsworth, as well as a NorCal match-up between Monterey Trail of Elk Grove against Granada of Livermore, and various games between Central Section teams for a total of 8 games. 

This year, the event spanned over two days, and was headlined by four marquee games between Central Section teams and Southern Section teams. In addition to these four games, the HOC Classic featured a SoCal versus NorCal game and four games between Central Section foes. The 2nd edition of this event included the addition of two girls games and a match-up between two prep schools for a total of 12 games over the two-day showcase. I was at the event for both days to cover all 12 games. 

The headline game was between CalHi Sports #5 ranked, and returning team from last year’s HOC, Sierra Canyon Trailblazers of Chatsworth taking on Fresno’s Clovis North Broncos, currently ranked #22 by CalHi. These two teams featured highly contrasting rosters and style of play and the Broncos would need the game to play out on its terms to pull off the upset. Unfortunately for Clovis North, the Trailblazers played a great all-around team game and used their superior size and physicality to dominate the hometown team, winning by a score of 79 to 39. 

Senior, and CSU Northridge commit, Noah Williams had it going early with 7 points in the opening quarter to give his team a 19 to 9 lead. Junior guard Jayden Alexander heated up in the 2nd quarter, scoring 8 of his 20 points in the frame. The Broncos struggled to create turnovers and were getting punished on the glass, as the size and strength of the Trailblazers was proving to be too much, as Sierra Canyon was up 38 to 16 at intermission. Junior wing/forward Bryce Cofield took off after the break, scoring 10 of his 14 points in the 3rd quarter. Williams would finish how he started, scoring 9 of his game high 23 points in the final frame and was named Player of the Game. Clovis North was led by senior Connor Amundsen with 12 points and junior Loukas Jones added 10 points, but the Broncos were heavily affected by the length and size of the Trailblazer in the loss. 

The game that preceded the headliner featured last year’s Division 2 State Champs San Joaquin Memorial Panthers of Fresno and Division 5 State Champs, and current CalHi #31, Lynwood Knights. This was by far the most entertaining game of the event, as the game would come down to a last second 3-ball by sophomore Jahaz Wright that gave the Knights the 82 to 81 victory over the Central Section powerhouse. Last year’s leading scorer in the state of California, sophomore Jason Crowe Jr., was cooking early, as he would score 11 points in the opening quarter to give his team the 26 to 21 lead. Sophomore Matthew Gibbs-Martinez also had 11 points connecting on 3 threes in the opening frame. The Panthers kept pace behind a pair of threes from junior Abram Potts and four others scoring in the quarter. Crowe stayed hot in the 2nd quarter, scoring 9 points, but the Panthers limited the rest of the roster to keep the game a five-point margin at the half. 

After trailing by five points going into intermission, 46 to 41, junior Julius Olanrewaju got hot and scored 12 of his team-high 28 points in the 3rd quarter. Potts added 6 more points to give the Panthers a 3-point lead going into the final frame. Olanrewaju would score 9 more points in the 4th quarter, but Crowe would not be outpaced, as he scored 9 of his game high 34 points down the stretch. The Knights were down by two with less than 6 seconds to play when Crowe looked to push the ball up the court and, as the Panthers went to swarm, he made the pass up the court to Wright for the open 3-pointer that hit at the buzzer. This was truly a thriller that had the crowd on their feet, as Crowe was named Player of the Game

The third Central Cali and SoCal match-up of the event featured some of the state’s top sophomores, as Bullard Knights of Fresno would take on CalHi’s #10 ranked team St. Bernard of Playa del Rey. Despite the depth of talented players from the class of 2026 on these rosters, Bullard would be without two key sophomores in Dalen Felder and Sean Smith-Sharkey, as both are sitting out due to CIFs 30-day transfer rule. Nonetheless, this game was packed with high-level play, as the Knights would keep making runs at the Vikings but would fall short, 74 to 61. 

Nationally ranked sophomore, Tajh Ariza, had the hot hand in the opening frame, as he would score 11 of his 30 points in the 1st quarter. The Knights kept pace with the Vikings with scoring contributions from six different players to trail by only 5 points heading into the 2nd quarter, 21 to 16. Bullard’s standout sophomore, Ja’Vance Coleman was more aggressive in the 2nd quarter, as he would score 8 of his team high 17 points, but Ariza and fellow sophomore Christian Collins would combine for 11 points in the quarter to give St. Bernard the 13 point lead headed into halftime by a score of 40 to 27.

After the break, the Knights got a boost from senior guard Jaleel Jackson, who scored 8 of his 15 points in the third quarter. Coleman chipped in 6 points and Bullard forced the Vikings into some costly turnovers, which allowed it to close the gap and trail by 7 going into the final frame, with St. Bernard up 54 to 47. 

Ariza, and senior forward Kendyl Sanders, scored 9 points each in the 4th quarter, combined with the Viking defense holding the Knights to single shot possessions, allowing St. Bernard stretched the lead back to double-digits and the win. Tajh Ariza was named Player of the Game, as he scored a game high 30 points.    

The first of the four SoCal versus Central Cali match-ups held on Saturday would feature defending NorCal Open Division State Champs, and Cal-Hi’s #19 ranked team, St. Joseph Knights of Santa Maria and one of the top teams in the Southern Section last season, West Ranch Wildcats of Valencia. On top of the hype behind the match-up of two state powers meeting up this early in the season was the individual clash between nationally ranked junior Tounde Yessoufou of St. Joseph and senior, and UNLV commit, James Evans Jr. and both would live up to the hype. 

Yessoufou, along with sophomore sensation Julius Price, would account for all of the Knights’ points in the opening quarter, with 10 points and 6 points respectively. The Wildcats got a more balanced scoring attack from four of its five starters to trail by one point at the end of quarter one, 16 to 15. Yessoufou kept it going in the 2nd quarter with another 13 points, as he connected on 2 threes in the 1st half from NBA range. Evans started to heat up in the 2nd frame, as he would score 11 points to keep his team within a single-digit deficit going into intermission, 36 to 28. 

Evans and Yessoufou would continue to dominate the game in the 3rd quarter, with 10 points and 9 points respectively, as the Knights would go into the 4th quarter up ten, 57 to 47. Yessoufou took over in the final quarter with 11 points to finish with a game high, and new event scoring high, of 43 points in a huge statement game for the reigning CalHi Sophomore of the Year. Evans would finish with 28 points but the Knights would win by a score of 76 to 54. Bishop Brooks of West Ranch finished with 10 points and Price would finish with 19 points and 6 assists for St. Joseph. Yessoufou was named Player of the Game and looks to have another year with gaudy stats. 

The fourth game on Saturday featured a NorCal and SoCal matchup between CalHi’s #30 Redondo Union Sea Hawks and Grant Pacers of Sacramento. What seemed like an enticing pair of teams to square off at the HOC, ended up being a one-sided affair, as the Sea Hawks would win by nearly 50 points, 86 to 38. Redondo Union had 11 players score in the game, but were led by sophomore SJ Madison with 15 points and 5 rebounds, freshman Chris Sanders had 11 points, and senior Devin Ringer had 10 points. Sophomore Andre Gomez led the Pacers with 10 points. Madison was named Player of the Game

Game 3 of the Saturday line-up featured two Central Section squads in Centennial Golden Hawks of Bakersfield and Central Grizzlies of Fresno in what ended up being the second most exciting game of the showcase. The Golden Hawks were short handed with only 8 players suited up, as its football players did not have enough practices met to be cleared for action. I have Centennial ranked in my preseason Top 10 for the Central Section and Central just outside my top 15, so this one was set to be a good test for both teams early in the season. 

The game was a low scoring affair with Central going into the intermission with a slim one point lead, 19 to 18. Senior Rippen Gill was the only player putting up points for the Golden Hawks with 11 points at the break, while the Grizzlies were led by senior Branden Ezell with 11 points connecting on 3 threes. Gill kept it up for Centennial in the 2nd half and got a welcome 9 points in the half from junior Szander Banaag. However, the Grizzlies got a big 2nd half from sophomore Myron Pondexter-Johnson with 12 points on 4 threes, as well as junior transfer Gerald Perry Jr. with 7 big points in the fourth quarter. The game was tied with less than 10 seconds left and the Grizzlies would get a put back lay-up from junior Na’Jae Stevenson as time expired for the 46 to 44 win. Gill would finish with a game high 24 points and 10 rebounds, but Player of the Game would go to the winning team’s Pondexter-Johnson.

The second game of day 2 of the event featured one of the two girls games between Clovis Cougars and Tehachapi Warriors. Despite the height advantage that seemed to favor the Warriors on paper, the dynamic lead guard play from sophomore Sadie Sin was too much for Tehachapi, as she would finish with 19 points and earn Player of the Game. Clovis won by a score of 48 to 28, with fellow sophomore Yazmin Aguilera chipping in 12 points on 4 threes, and the Warriors were led by junior Jamie Neaderbaomer with 12 points. 

The Edison Tigers of Fresno would take on the Sunnyside Wildcats of Fresno to kick-off the festivities on day 2 of the HOC Classic. The game was a low scoring affair in the first half tied at 19 a piece, as both teams struggled to put the ball in the basket. The Tigers made the adjustments and took over the game in the 2nd half, holding the Wildcats scoreless in the 3rd quarter to head into the final frame up 35 to 19. Senior Va’ron Mitchell scored 13 of his game high 16 points after intermission to secure the Player of the Game honors, as Edison won 52 to 27. Fellow seniors Ray Brown and Kam Bowen also had big contributions with 13 points and 12 points and 4 rebounds respectively. 

The final game of day 1 of the HOC Classic was between Bella Vista Prep of Arizona, ESPN’s #23 ranked team nationally, and Red Rock Prep of Las Vegas, Nevada. Both rosters are loaded with talent and Red Rock came out and made a statement in this one, as it would win big by a score of 70 to 51 and a spot in ESPN’s updated nationally rankings at #24. Red Rock was led by the stellar play of junior wing/guard Mason Abittan, who finished with 23 points and 6 rebounds and was launching threes from NBA range with ease to earn Player of the Game honors.  

Juniors Deshawn Gory and Jevon Yapi also had monster games for Red Rock Prep, with 23 points and 4 steals and 7 points, 7 assists, and 5 steals respectively. Senior, and nationally ranked big man, Jayden Williams, had a solid game for Bella Vista with 13 points and 8 rebounds but he was in foul trouble all game, which hindered Bella Vista on both ends. 

The first ever girls game at the HOC was played on day 1 of the event between defending D2 State Champs Central Grizzlies of Fresno and Roosevelt Rough Riders of Fresno. The game was a close one in the first half of play, as the Grizzlies were led by senior Keytonna Ross and

junior Illicia Ross scored 13 points and 7 points respectively to give their team a 27 to 21 lead at the break. The Lady Rough Riders were led by sophomore Nevaeh Reese with 8 of her total of 9 points scored in the first 2 quarters. Despite a valiant effort from Taylor Sutherland, who scored 10 of her team-high 11 points in the 2nd half, the Ross girls continued to put up points, along with junior Vivian Moore with 9 of her 11 points coming after intermission to give the Grizzlies a comfortable 59 to 37 win. Keytonna Ross was named Player of the Game, finishing with 20 points. 

The first two games of the HOC Classic featured two match-ups from Fresno teams and were part of Fresno Christian’s The Meat Up Invitational, which was a two-day showcase featuring four teams. Fresno Christian joined with the HOC Classic and decided to play its first two games of the Invitational at the Save Mart Center. The second game on day 1 of the HOC was between the Fresno Christian Eagles and the Roosevelt Rough Riders of Fresno. The game was close in the opening frame, as the Eagles would lead by a score of 11 to 10 going into the 2nd quarter. Sophomore Devin Gaines and junior Beckham Klein would get things going for the Eagles in the 2nd quarter, scoring 8 points and 7 points respectively. Junior James Miller of Roosevelt scored 7 of his team high 15 points in the first half but it trailed the Eagles 31 to 20 at the break. 

Sophomore point guard Noah Coulton would come up big in the 2nd half, as he would get to the line frequently scoring 11 of his game high 16 points after halftime. Freshman Cobi Posas had a solid stat line of 11 points, 5 rebounds, and 4 blocks for the Rough Riders, but the Eagles would pull away for a 64 to 41 win. Devin Gaines was named Player of the Game with 14 points and 8 rebounds. 

The opening game of the 2nd Annual HOC Classic was between the Clovis Cougars and the Selma Bears. Senior Dilibe Allison kept the Cougars in the game in the first half, as he would score 11 of the team’s 23 points and only trailed by 2 at the break, 25 to 23. Selma was led by sophomore Matt Esparza, who scored 10 of his 13 points before the break. Junior Matthew Williams and senior Trey Sanderson would have a big second half for the Cougars, scoring 13 points and 11 points respectively to take the lead after the break. Senior Luke Machnik of the Bears did his all to keep his team close, as he scored 12 of his game high 16 points, but it was not enough as Clovis would edge out the win 61 to 56. Allison was named Player of the Game, as he would be pivotal at the lead guard spot to control the pace of play for the Cougars.