SELMA — When the Selma boys basketball team defeated Sanger at Selland Arena for the Central Section Division III title in March, it was the first Section title for the Bears in 103 years.
With four returning starters on a team that went 30-5 and ended that century-long drought, the road to a second straight title will be even tougher with the Bears recent success meaning a promotion to Div. II.
“Div. II is going to be a lot tougher,” said Selma head coach Mike Pallesi. “If we had stayed in Div. III, I think we're the favorites. In Div. II, we're probably one of the top four or five teams.”
Some of the top teams in Div. II will include San Joaquin Memorial, which has no less than four future NCAA Div. I players and is ranked in the top 25 in the state, as well as Tulare Union, Mission Oak, Hanford, Fresno, El Diamante and Redwood – all of which have had strong programs in recent years.
Along with going 30-5, Selma won a state playoff game and just missed out on advancing to the Southern California Regional semifinals on a shot at the buzzer. That came after the Bears swept through the Central Sequoia League with a 10-0 record, including two wins against Immanuel, which won its fourth straight Section title in Div. IV.
Returning starters for Selma include Will Pallesi, Junior Ramirez, Tiveon Stroud and Manny Singh. Will Pallesi, a 6-3 shooting guard, has signed with NCAA Div. I San Diego. Stroud, a 6-6 senior gives the Bears a big inside presence. Ramirez returns at point guard, and Singh adds strength at guard and is one of plenty of Bears who can shoot from the outside.
In Selma's season-opening win, the Bears hit 14 3-pointers, including seven in the fourth quarter of a 96-61 win over Shafter.
Mike Pallesi said the team's only goal is to continue to improve and try to not put pressure on the players.
“I just want them to play well,” he said. “On offense, sometimes they try to force things because they're so used to being successful. If we work together and make good passes, we have plenty of guys that can shoot. We can score in bunches.”
With high expectations, Mike Pallesi also beefed up the Bears' schedule.
The team played in Clovis North's tournament and has trips down south and out-of-state.
“We could go 0-4 (in a tournament) and still have played really well,” Mike Pallesi said. “We have a brutal schedule.”
Mike Pallesi said the thing any potential success will hinge on is the Bears to improve on the defensive side of the ball.
“We want to go back to being a blue collar team on the defensive end,” Mike Pallesi said. “If we can get better on that end, we'll be pretty good.”