SACRAMENTO — Isaiah Burse has a point to prove today: There's more to Modesto Christian than just its star, UCLA-bound Reeves Nelson.
Nelson has been the foundation of the program for four years, and not a game goes by that the 6-foot-8-inch forward isn't the focal point for opposing defenses and the crowd.
The Crusaders have grown accustomed to Nelson's dominance, too, but it takes more than a hot recruit to win a Sac-Joaquin Section crown.
That's why Burse could be a decisive factor in today's Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV final against Christian Brothers — as well as the upcoming Northern California playoffs.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Merced Sun-Star
"Isaiah's got the vision of a quarterback, the way he sees the floor and finds those openings," said Nelson, who is averaging 27 points and 17 rebounds in the postseason.
Not surprising, considering the elusive junior is a three-year starter at quarterback.
Burse had 13 points and hassled Vista del Lago's guards throughout MC's 64-60 semifinal win. With Vista overloading its defense to stop Nelson, Burse exploited the weak side by driving to the basket.
"If he's got the opportunity, we want him to drive, but he also needs to kick the ball out if the defense comes to him," MC coach Gary Porter said.
Burse has come a long way since debuting with the varsity as a sophomore, improving his ballhandling and decision-making to the point that Porter lets him run the show.
Vista's Jaqyai Wiley, one of the quickest point guards MC has seen, got past Burse a few times. Wiley also lost the battle a number of times, however, resulting in turnovers.
Burse and backcourt mates Lio Prophete and Marcus Butler face another challenge today in Martin Harris — the sharp-shooting guard had 26 in CB's semifinal victory.
While the boys shoot for a 10th title in a row, the girls are after their first Division IV title — the program's first two championships came in D-V.
There's a familiar foe in the Crusaders' way: MC beat Linden 61-52 two months ago.
Linden is coming off one of its best games of the season, however. The Lions beat top-seeded and defending champ Christian Brothers 57-49 for a berth in today's title game.
It will be a mix of styles, as Linden relies on a backcourt led by 5-7 Jordan Baca and 5-9 Jamie Payne and loves to fire away from the 3-point line.
MC answers with its 5-8 duo of point guard Brandi Henton and 3-point ace Stefani Agostini, as well as an inside game featuring two 6-footers and 5-11 forward Taryn Garza.
If the MC teams win, they'll host a doubleheader Tuesday to open the Northern California playoffs. Section runners-up will open on the road.
Bee staff writer Richard T. Estrada can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2300.