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SELMA - The 2018-19 season will be the start of a new era for the Selma High basketball program, who will be led by first year head coach Johnny Vargas.

“I just want to get better every game,” Vargas said. “I want to see improvement, I want us to take the next step every game. There’s a lot of talent in the gym right now, there’s a lot of kids that could play. 'It’s my job and my assistant coaches job to put it together and make it work.”

The 2018-19 team will look different than last year’s squad that played at Selland Arena for the CIF Central Section Division II Championship against San Joaquin Memorial last March. Vargas was apart of the coaching staff from last year’s team under former coach Mike Pallesi. Vargas served as an assistant coach under Pallesi since the 2013-14 season.

This year’s team features only one returning player, who is sophomore Aaron Blancas. Everyone else on the team will be playing in their first year at the varsity level. The 2017-18 roster featured 10 of 11 seniors.

Vargas said this season’s team currently only has two seniors to along with the young squad of juniors and sophomores.

“I think the further we get into the season, the more experience they’re going to get,” Vargas said. “We only have one returning varsity player, they never really played at that kind of speed before. I think it’s going to take a little bit of time, but we got some talented kids out here, some of these kids could really play. I think we’re going to be better than what a lot people think we’re going to be.”

One of the team’s newcomers is junior Matthew Hernandez, who has prepared for his first varsity season this past summer. He said he worked on improving his shooting and free throws throughout the offseason.

“Overall goals for the season is coming out strong,” Hernandez said. “We’re a small team, we have a lot of speed, a lot of skilled players. Even though people are looking down on us because we’re a new team, I just expect to show everybody that we could win like last year’s team.”

Other newcomers include Elijah Mendoza and Joey Ramirez, who was the quarterback for the Selma High football team this past season.

“Elijah Mendoza has been really good for me all off season,” Vargas said. “Up until now, he’s been a great piece for us. Joey Ramirez, he could really shoot the rock. I’m really excited to see how we could mesh together.”

As for the returning Blancas, he’s coming off his first year as a varsity football player at Selma High. Blancas said he’s ready to step into a starting role on the basketball court and become a leader on the team.

“All of us could play, all of us are hardworking,” Blancas said. “I know we’re underdogs now, a lot of seniors left [from last year], so we just have to come out and prove them wrong.”

Last season, Blancas averaged 3.6 points per game and shot a field percentage of 39 percent off the bench.

“He’s done everything the right way, he’s done everything he’s supposed to do to be the guy,” Vargas said. “He played a lot of minutes for us last year, he played a lot of minutes in some really big games last year. So he kind of knows what to expect and he’s come out here giving us his max effort. I’m excited to see where he came from the summer to where he’s at now and how much he’s approved.”

For the past four seasons, Selma has finished in the top two of the Central Sequoia League standings including two first place finishes and a combined league record of 35-5 during that span.

With Hanford West joining as the seventh team in the CSL, the Bears will play two extra league games, which will begin earlier as usual.

Selma will start CSL play against Central Valley Christian at home on Dec. 11. Last season, the Bears didn’t begin league play until Jan. 12.

Vargas expects the league schedule to be tough.

“I think it’s going to be a good challenge for us,” he said. “I think if we could make some strides in preseason, I think we could really make a run at it in league.”

The Bears began its season against Madera High at home on Nov. 20 (after press time). The next time step Selma will step onto the hardwood will be at the Kingsburg Lions Tourney on Dec. 5-8.

“I just want them to keep getting better,” Vargas said. “We’re young this year...as long as we compete this year, I think we’ll be alright.”

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Jeremiah Martinez can be reached at 559-583-2413 or jmartinez@hanfordsentinel.com

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