Last week, Selma high school presented the sixth annual Jesse Lujan Memorial Tournament, which has turned into one of most competitive and meaningful varsity basketball events in the Central Valley.
The tourney featured 16 teams from the area and the main focus isn’t about winning; it’s about honoring Jesse Lujan’s memory.
“For the town it brings us together,” said Selma head coach Mike Pallesi. “I think it’s something that the community looks forward to...we’re taking a tragedy and turning it into a positive.”
In July 2011, Lujan died in a car crash, along with his friend Anthony Caro. Lujan was supposed to begin his senior year in high school and Caro already graduated that May. Both Lujan and Caro were 17 when they died.
“He was a kid who had a humongous heart,” Pallesi. “He’s one of the most fierce competitors I ever coached. He couldn’t stand to lose, and he was a guy who wanted the ball in his hands late in the game.”
Pallesi’s most notable memory of coaching Lujan was when he helped Selma come back from a nine-point deficit against Kingsburg with 1:45 to go and he scored on three-straight three-pointers to tie the game.
“You were always in the ball game when he was on the floor,” Pallesi said.
Jesse’s stepmother, Connie Lujan said the tournament has done its part to keep her step son’s name alive.
“I felt like he’s left his legacy behind,” Lujan said. “We could carry it on through the tournament and it means a lot to everybody who helps that’s loved him, and played with him...It’s become part of us.”
Originally, the Lujan family thought of a streetball tournament, but were unsure of the idea until Pallesi got involved in helping set up a tourney being played at Selma high school.
“We knew we wanted to do something with basketball,” Lujan said. “Anybody who knew him associated him with basketball.
What makes the Jesse Lujan tournament unique is that it is one of two tourneys in California to award scholarships to players. The other tournament is the West Coast Jamboree, which is a national girls varsity tourney in the Bay Area. All money raised at the Jesse Lujan tournament goes toward the scholarships.
Selma athletics director Randy Esraelian said a scholarship was a part of the vision from the Lujan family and Pallesi when they put the together. According to Esarelian, the awarding of scholarships has been well received around the valley.
“They’re trying to raise money and pass the ability for individuals to go to play college basketball because that was Jesse’s dream,” Esarelian said. “In order to play college basketball, everybody needs a little financial assistance, so that was their vision, and it’s very well received.”
Esarelian said there are four or five scholarships awarded every year.
At this year’s tournament five scholarships were given out including three to Selma players, who were William Pallesi, Junior Ramirez, and Manny Singh.
As for the team, Selma placed fourth after a 72-79 loss to Kerman on Saturday Jan. 6.
Pallesi (35 points), Ramirez (15) and Singh (11) all scored in double-digits in the loss. Pallesi also made the Jesse Lujan all-tournament team.
In the Bears first two games, they were victorious in blowouts against Kennedy and Madera. Selma defeated Kennedy 68-42 and the Bears defeated Madera 64-41.Selma’s third game went down to the wire, as Madera South pulled out a 67-66 with two free throws with .2 of a second to go. Madera South ended up losing to Fresno high school 76-64 in the championship game.
After going 2-2 at the tournament, Selma is 9-7 overall and will begin Central Sequoia League play against Immanuel on Jan. 12.
Mike Pallesi doesn’t know what to expect when league starts, but wants his team to just focus at one possession at a time.
“All of our guys have to make plays,” Pallesi said. “When everybody is on the same page making plays, we’re pretty good.”
Before taking on Immanuel, the Bears will take on Washington Union on Wednesday Jan. 10 at home.