State

Turlock's Souza area's top prep hoopster

TURLOCK — Travis Souza completed his high school basketball career with 1,714 points, 527 assists, 80 varsity wins and zero regrets.

Turlock High's 6-feet, 4-inch shooting guard was a four-year varsity player, and in his senior season averaged 20.7 points per game to lead the Bulldogs to the Sac-Joaquin Section Division 1 semifinals and the school's first-ever NorCal regional berth.

To cap that career, the most valuable player of the Central California Conference also has been named the Modesto Bee's Stanislaus District 2009-10 boys' basketball player of the year.

"You always can work harder," Souza said. "If I can change one thing I think I would have been a little more aggressive starting with my freshman year."

Then there is that matter of never beating Merced, which either shared the CCC crown or won it outright in each of Souza's four varsity seasons.

"I would have liked to win the league," Souza said. "As good as Merced was, we could have beat them a couple times. If we hadn't made it to Arco or gone as far as we did in the playoffs, then not beating Merced would eat at me a little more. Merced is always tough, and losing to them isn't a disgrace."

Souza doesn't really like to talk about the losses. According to his coach, Doug Cornfoot, Souza's hatred of coming up short on the scoreboard is a large part of what has driven him to get better.

"Travis doesn't like to lose," Cornfoot said. "Even if it's horse or knockout or games like that. He's not outgoing about losing and he doesn't cuss or anything like that, but you can tell by the way he plays that he doesn't like to lose. His work ethic also shows how much he doesn't like to lose."

Souza's ability to put forth the effort necessary to win carries over into other arenas. He's carrying a 3.92 grade point average while completing five advanced placement courses.

And speaking of courses, he also carries a 2.4 golf handicap at Turlock Country Club and plays for Turlock High's golf team.

"Golf is just a way to relax, because I work really hard at basketball," Souza said. "I've worked hard over the years to get good at golf, but not consistently. It's pretty much a fun thing for me. I can spend four hours playing golf, but 10 minutes on the range is all I'll do — just enough to warm up."

That relaxed approach to golf certainly does not mirror the effort Souza has put into basketball. He's the stereotypical gym rat, often staying after practice to hone his shooting stroke.

"There were times after practice when his dad would show up and they stay and shoot for an hour or two until someone came and kicked him out," Cornfoot said.

And as good as Souza has become, he's not close to reaching his potential, according to Cornfoot.

"He knows how to shoot and handle the ball, but there's so much more that he can learn — like how to create shots and understand mismatches," Cornfoot said. "Once he understands that, he can play at any level."

There lies the rub. Souza will be playing college basketball somewhere, and his only goal is to find a college that both challenges him athletically and academically, but at a level that allows him to be an on-court contributor while studying business or mechanical engineering.

He'd rather be playing and contributing at the Division II or NAIA level than sit the bench for a Division I school. The scholarship offers haven't exactly been flowing in.

"Recruiting has been a little slower than I thought," Souza said. "I got a lot of fake interest over the summer, and even that died down around August. I had an offer from Army and I visited, but I didn't want to do the Army thing. Azusa Pacific offered about a month ago, and UC San Diego is coming here for a home visit."

College coaches have indicated that Souza isn't quite aggressive enough, and that he might not possess the quickness to be an effective defensive player, but Cornfoot disagrees.

"I see a kid who has gotten better in each of the four years that I've had him, and he's almost 6-5 and can shoot and handle the ball and pass," Cornfoot said. "He might not be able to dunk over people but there's so much he can do.

"I don't know why he's not getting the Division I looks he should be. Those schools are interested. They're intrigued by him. But I think they're afraid to use a scholarship on a kid that maybe they think isn't athletic enough."

Souza isn't in a hurry to make his choice, although he knows that decision will need to be made by the time he grabs his Turlock diploma.

After that, unless a local school convinces him to stay, Souza will be off for the next four years at another program, working hard, without regrets.

"Not beating Merced is something I'll remember, but as far as the playoffs are concerned, I think we went as far as we should have," Souza said. "When you get into the NorCals and start paying teams with the good athletes who also can shoot the ball, it gets tough. I don't consider this season a failure at all."

Bee staff writer Brian VanderBeek can be reached at bvanderbeek@modbee.com or 578-2300.

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