SELMA - Johnny Vargas is the new boys basketball coach at Selma High School.
Vargas takes over the program from coach Mike Pallesi who retired after 31 years of coaching at the end of last season.
When Vargas officially got hired as the new basketball coach, he was eager to get started.
“I was excited,” Vargas said. “I couldn’t sleep for a couple of nights because of how excited I was.”
It’s Vargas’ first head coaching job, but he isn’t a stranger to Selma athletics. Vargas served as an assistant coach under Pallesi since the 2013-14 season. Vargas was also on the Selma football coaching staff during head coach Matt Logue’s first two seasons in 2015 and 2016.
As an assistant coach, Vargas was part of two different coaching staffs, which helped capture Valley championship titles in football (2016) and in basketball (2017) during the 2016-17 academic year.
“Johnny is somebody that has been part of Selma athletics for the past five years,” Selma High School athletic director Randy Esraelian said. “Johnny knows Selma, he knows our athletes, he knows our success.”
Vargas said he’s excited for the opportunity to lead the program for the first time.
“I don’t want to be anywhere else but here in Selma,” Vargas said. “I love the town. I met my wife here and it’s one of the greatest decisions I’ve ever made coming to Selma.
“I've got to be around some amazing people. I've got to coach really good basketball players. I've got to see basketball played at a high level. There’s nowhere else I want to be than Selma.”
Last season, Selma went 21-11 overall and won a league title with a 9-1 record. It was the first time the program won back-to-back league titles since the 1960-61 and 1961-62 seasons.
The Bears made a playoff run that ended at Selland Arena when Selma played for a Valley championship last season. The Bears fell to San Joaquin Memorial in a 71-66 defeat.
A new coach is the start of a new era for Selma basketball. In 2018-19, the team will feature a new look with only one returning player. Last year’s roster included 10 seniors out of 11 total players.
“He knows this is an opportunity for him to take a program and kind of start over,” Esraelian said. “That’s kind of what he has to do right now. Any time you get someone that’s excited to do that, that means they have the energy that this is going to take [to rebuild].”
The 2018-19 season will also be the first time Pallesi won’t be on the Selma sideline in nine years. Overall, Pallesi coached for 31 years with other stops at Fowler, Sierra and Sanger high schools.
During Pallesi’s nine-year tenure at the school, the Bears made seven playoff appearances, won three Central Sequoia League titles and appeared in three-straight Valley championship games at Selland Arena in 2016-18.
As one of Pallesi’s assistants, Vargas admired the work he did for the program.
“He did a great job here building the program and getting it to an elite level,” Vargas said. “It wasn’t just about basketball. It was about the kids, he loved the school, he loved the town. It wasn’t just about Selma basketball, it was about the community.”
Pallesi said Vargas’ past coaching experience at Selma and passion for the program will make him a good fit to be his successor.
“He knows the kids, he knows the community,” Pallesi said. “He wants to coach at Selma High. If he has any deficits anywhere, his passions will carry him over to where he’s going to be successful.”
Vargas said Pallesi has been a coaching mentor to him and he also played for the former Selma coach at Sanger High School, from where he graduated.
“I don’t think it’s necessary to fill his shoes,” Vargas said. “Those are shoes that can’t be filled. He’s a great coach.”