The annual Los Banos boys basketball alumni game is rarely close, but the Tigers’ varsity team gave an indication of our much it has improved in a 72-60 loss to the alumni Saturday.
After trailing 21-10 at the end of the first quarter, the varsity squad roared back to tie it 24-24 on a pair of Loggan Pimentel 3-pointers, and even took a 26-24 lead on Alec Barcellos’ bucket a minute later. The teams went to halftime tied at 26.
“We’ve been working hard. We’ve had our team for about five practices, six practices, and we’ve been focusing a lot of defense and making sure we’re in the right defensive positioning, and talking on D, just getting back to a lot of fundamentals that we’ve been missing in the past,” said Los Banos coach Mike Bonillas, himself an LBHS grad who played against the junior varsity squad before coaching the varsity. “We have a group of guys that really get along together and really like each other, so that helps. They’re real young, so we’re excited to watch them grow.”
The Tigers eventually crumbled against the alumni’s serious advantage in size and experience in the third quarter, with alums draining 3-pointers and easily grabbing offensive rebounds, but the Tigers look at the game as a learning experience.
Never miss a local story.
“We’re not going to see anybody more talented than those old guys in any of our league games this year,” junior post player Alec Barcellos said. “It helps us out knowing we’ve come a long way from last year, and we’re going to hopefully be a team to contend with this year.
“It’s tough you know, but you just have to be more physical than them and then they’ll start complaining, and that’s what you want. You get in their head and they don’t want to play anymore.”
The alumni squad took on a slightly younger look this year, with just a few players from graduating classes in the 1990s. A few of them came from classes just in the last few years, such as Isaac Solis (2012) and Tramane Moore (2011), and twins Gerald and Gregory Blackmon (2009).
“We’re not going to face a team like that. If we face a team like that, we have a great problem, because we’re probably playing for the section championship in Arco,” Bonillas said. “So if we have to face a team like that with that type of skill and that type of size, and veterans and people that have been around the block, then you’re going to be in trouble no matter what. I feel we did a great job.
“I’m super happy with the talk on D, it just got stronger as it went on, the bench was good, the guys that weren’t playing as much were staying in the game, they knew what was going on.”
Nowhere else but up
After a 4-21 campaign last winter, improvement is pretty much the only direction this team can travel. The Tigers won a single league game a year ago, a 58-56 win over Central Valley.
“It beat us up pretty bad. I mean, I was really considering not playing this year because it was so bad, and I was not sure how it would be,” Barcellos said. “And Coach B (Joe Barcellos) came to help too, so that helped it all out. And this group is – we are definitely more of a team than last year.”
A few of the players, such as Brevin Welch, Mike Jones and Justin Delgado, are dedicated basketball players that have been in the gym all fall.
“We couldn’t be happier as coaches and prouder that our program has taken off back in the direction it was,” Bonillas said. “We kind of took a step back last year, but I think we’re going in the right direction. I’m excited to watch the kids grow.”
It also helps to have football players like Barcellos and Pimentel hitting the gym early after a 5-5 season.
“I always want our football team to do great, but we didn’t get those guys until three weeks later last year,” Bonillas said. “And the year before that, we didn’t get Tramane and them until the third week. So it really helps to have these guys all together and putting time in in the gym. It’s all credit to them. We show up at the gym regardless of whether we’re winning or losing, so we’re winning. The kids are working hard, they want to work hard for us, so that’s kind of what we’re hoping.”
A familiar face
Another thing giving Bonillas confidence is the presence of athletic director Joe Barcellos, the former LBHS coach, at practice and on the bench for games. Bonillas took over from Barcellos two years ago and took the Tigers to the second round of the playoffs before falling to Sierra in the section quarterfinals. He asked Barcellos to join him on the bench this year.
“We have a great rapport as far as basketball experience. He wants me to be better, and I want to be better,” Bonillas said. “We have a weird… it’s like I’m still his player, and I’m inadvertently coaching our team still. He’s giving me pointers, and it’s not because he wants to do it, it’s because I asked him to help me be better.
“It’s crazy. Me and him have a 16-year basketball relationship. He’s been opening the gym for me since I was 14 years old.”
Barcellos’ son, J.T. is a senior this year, and is one of the long-distance sharpshooters on the team. While Barcellos’ demeanor on Saturday was a lot calmer than his old coaching days, the arrangement has had its surreal moments for Bonillas.
“In practice last week, he was going over shell drill, and I had to turn my back to him and I started laughing, because it was like de ja vu,” Bonillas said. “He said the same stuff. He’d be like, ‘Mike Bonillas…’ and he’d tell you what you did wrong. He says your whole name. And then at practice, he was doing it to Mike Jones: ‘Mike Jones…’ ”