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Buffaloes can play some hoops, too
Boys basketball team takes its long awaited turn in the spotlight
Manteca standout guard Kiwi Gardner cuts off a part of the net following the Buffaloes’ Valley Oak League title-clinching win over Sonora. - photo by JONAMAR JACINTO
The last time a Manteca High boys basketball team tore down the nets at Winter Gym, its current coaching staff was in grade school.

The players on this year’s roster weren’t even born yet. Some of them were being potty trained when the Buffaloes last qualified for the playoffs.

Needless to say, it’s been a long time coming at Manteca, where the football team has been enjoying its time in the spotlight since winning its first of three section championships in 2001.

But on Wednesday, Winter Gym was center stage.

“The football players were in the stands cheering, I could hear them,” junior guard Ernie Pimentel said.

Manteca avenged its only regular-season defeat and clinched the program’s first Valley Oak League championship since 1989, and seventh overall, with its 59-52 win over Sonora.

Past and present Buffalo football players were in attendance, as was Modesto Junior College head men’s basketball coach Paul Brogan — the engineer of Manteca’s last postseason run in 2000.

The rebuilding process since was, well, a rebuilding process.

Head coach Dave Asuncion took the reins from Ron Inderbitzin, now the school’s athletic director, after the 2003-04 season. Players have come and gone, and the baby steps taken were hardly noticeable.

The Buffaloes finished 8-15 in Asuncion’s first season. In 2005-06 they went 9-17. Then 10-17. Then 12-15.

With a win at East Union Friday, Manteca (12-1, 23-3 overall) can end up with more wins in league than overall victories over Asuncion’s previous four seasons.

Four seasons, four long seasons following the 13 before it.

The other Manteca Unified schools have written their own success stories in this decade. East Union reigned the VOL from 2003-05. Sierra’s 2007 title season was sandwiched by two Weston Ranch championships.

All Manteca had been during that time is a nuisance to the league’s contenders — good enough to ruin it for somebody else, but not quite good enough to make its own run at it.

Asuncion isn’t taking credit for the team’s current success, instead deflecting praise toward his talented group of players.
But with ultimate competitors such as sophomore star point guard Kiwi Gardner, senior forward Nick Scheible and Pimentel, each of whom can go for 30-plus points on any given night, Asuncion has turned his hardwood mercenaries into a disciplined army of one.

“We have the tools (to succeed), but I think the main thing is that we have guys that, as a family, love to play together and want to win together,” Asuncion said.

Well, not everybody was on the same page Wednesday night.

Seniors Dominique Barnes, LaRon Bennett and Willie Greenwood had the letters “VOL” shaved on the sides of their heads.

“It was supposed to be the whole team, but the rest of them chickened out,” Barnes said.

The Buffaloes join other athletic programs on campus in snapping a championshipless drought. In the spring of 2007, the boys tennis team won its first VOL title since 1991. The boys soccer team then clinched a championship for the first time since 1993 the following fall.

“We made history,” Barnes said. “I don’t even have the words for it, it’s amazing.”

How about “finally?”

And with a promising sophomore team joining the likes of Gardner and Pimentel next year, the wait for another championship may not be so long.

“Back to back would be great,” Pimentel said.

Considering the 20-year wait, the first one already is.