On a campus where football and baseball have long been king, Central Catholic High's Mike Wilson believed there was an opportunity to create yet another athletic dynasty.
Five years after taking control of an erratic boys basketball program, Wilson's commitment is now producing quality players and big wins.
Central has an opportunity for its greatest victory under Wilson tonight when it visits defending Western Athletic Conference champ Patterson.
The Raiders are 10-3 overall after beating Gustine in Tuesday's WAC opener, but they have yet to face a foe as formidable as Patterson (10-3, 1-0).
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"I get asked about our past and future frequently," said Wilson, 70-52 in four-plus seasons.
Basketball has struggled to find a place in Central's athletic hierarchy, compared to the consistency and championships delivered by the football and baseball programs.
Football won seven consecutive Sac-Joaquin Section titles before losing in this year's title game, while baseball has won nine section crowns in a row.
The last time the basketball program won a section championship banner was 1988.
Wilson kept his desires and expectations in check for a few seasons, focusing instead on creating youth teams to consistently develop players for his high school program.
"Regarding future improvements and consistency, the CenCal Raider youth program has really helped," Wilson said. "This year's seniors are our first youth group and 11 of 12 varsity players participated. A majority at JV and frosh are from the program."
The youth program has produced a balanced roster that features size and quickness -- three starters are at least 6 feet, 4 inches, and as many as three players play the point.
The best of that bunch is 6-4 Ken Mashinchi, a senior capable of playing the post and the point. With two tall juniors in the lineup, 6-6 Dan Hulst and 6-4 Dusty Killian, Central is also prepared for the future.
"We (use) Hulst and Killian as post players and they work well together," said Wilson, whose duo averages 26 points and 20 rebounds. "Both are much more active on the offensive boards (this season)."
Improvements traced to the youth teams explain why Central won 35 games the last two seasons, after just nine wins in 2005-06. Last year's 19 wins were the most in Wilson's tenure, but he says it's time to stop worrying about records.
Now that a foundation is in place for producing talent, he is strengthening the schedule to provide more challenges.
Central was 3-0 against the Modesto Metro Conference in December -- Wilson credits a rigorous offseason, including a demanding summer-league schedule, for those victories -- but its nonleague schedule overall was mediocre at best.
"We look at each year's won-loss improvement, but now we are focusing on evaluating those numbers in relation to scheduling a tougher preseason," Wilson promised.
Bee staff writer Richard T. Estrada can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2300.