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Alexander, Nunez share titles, admiration for each other
Weston Ranchs Dylan Alexander, left, and Sierra Highs Guillermo Nunez, right, are the Manteca Bulletin 2013 All-Area Boys Basketball co-MVPs. - photo by CHRIS LEONARD/

• Eric Duncan (PG), Weston Ranch senior: Losing Zerrion Payton to Modesto Christian left the Cougars without a point guard until Duncan arrived from McNair. Duncan was a boost with his ability to drive, dish, defend and drain perimeter shots, giving the Ranch a legitimate third threat alongside co-MVP Dylan Alexander and Daiveon Leverett.
Stats: 16 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists.
• Cole Herrin (PG), Ripon senior: No team was hit harder by graduation and injury losses than Ripon, leaving Herrin as the lone returning player from the Indians’ SJS Division-IV runner-up team. Despite that, along with a brutal wire-to-wire schedule, the fearless guard led Ripon to a fourth straight playoff appearance.
Stats: 13.4 points, 4.9 rebounds, 2.6 assists.
• Dan Vos (PG), Ripon Christian senior: A lingering knee injury didn’t keep Vos and the Knights from capturing a third straight SL title. He was also named league MVP for a second straight year and ranked among the state’s leaders in total assists and assists per game.
Stats: 10.4 points, 7.5 assists, 3.1 steals.
• Jake Danhoff, (C), East Union junior: The 6-foot-6 Danhoff was the area’s most refined offensive post player. He enjoyed a breakthrough second season at the varsity level, grinding out 30 points and 12 rebounds in a nonleague win over Armijo and averaging 21.8 points and 10.5 boards over EU’s final four contests.
Stats: 16.1 points, 54% field, 7.6 rebounds, 1.5 blocks.
• Daieveon Leverett (C), Weston Ranch senior : There were few in the region who could match Leverett’s combination of size (6-foot-8) and athleticism. The big man in Weston Ranch’s talented triumvirate routinely ignited both the team and the crowd with thunderous dunks and emphatic blocks.
Stats: 15 points, 8 rebounds.
• Robert Orantes (PG), Lathrop senior: This 5-foot-8 dynamo might have been the area’s toughest player.
Stats: 14.9 points, 5.5 rebounds, 4.4 assists.
• Emmanuel Elijah (G), Sierra senior: One of the key figures for a class that won VOL titles at every level including two on the varsity.
Stats: 10.5 points, 6.3 rebounds, 2.3 steals.
• Eric Melgar (G), Sierra senior: The 5-foot-5 Melgar was a pesky defender, shifty ball handler and deadly outside shooter.
Stats: 9.2 points, 4.1 assists, 1.7 steals.
• Austin Haro (SG), Manteca junior: The Buffs return their entire starting five next year with this sharp-shooting guard leading the way.
Stats: 12.2 points, 59 3-pointers, 91% free throws.
• Jordan Kron (G), East Union senior: Took a break from basketball during his junior season to focus on baseball but didn’t skip a beat in his return to the hardwood.
Stats: 14.3 points, 71 3-pointers, 80% free throws.
— Jonamar Jacinto

Before they were enemies, they were teammates – pint-sized stars on the Manteca Nuggets AAU basketball team.

Ain’t it funny how life moves in circles?

Rivals for four years in high school, Sierra High’s Guillermo Nunez and Weston Ranch’s Dylan Alexander recently found themselves in the same huddle again.

They were paired together by East Union boys basketball coach Brett Lewis, who drafted a team of seniors from the Valley Oak League for a showcase in Los Angeles.

The cornerstones of his six-man roster: Nunez and Alexander, two of the top shooting guards in the Central Valley and The Bulletin’s Boys Basketball Most Valuable Players.

They didn’t disappoint, holding their own against competition from across the West Coast in front of 30-40 college scouts.

“Watching them and having them in open gyms, both are just players,” said Lewis, who was 1-11 collectively against Nunez and Alexander over the last three years.

“They work hard at the game, but their understanding of the game and knowledge just comes so natural. Both are so versatile.”

There isn’t much ground left to cover with Alexander and Nunez, whose prep careers ran parallel to one another.

Let’s see…

Alexander was a three-year varsity star for a Weston Ranch program that won two Valley Oak League championships (2011, 2013) and went 37-5 in league play.

Impressive, except that Nunez also played three years at the varsity level, delivering head coach Scott Thomason consecutive championships (2012, 2013) for the first time in his coaching career. As for Nunez’s mark over those three years – you guessed it – 37-5.

See where this is going?

Both were dynamic guards who could fill up a stat sheet in a hurry.

Nunez averaged 18 points per game, shot 78 percent from the free-throw line and averaged two steals and two assists per game.

He had an affinity for the big shot – no matter where it presented itself on the floor. There were the six 3-pointers that iced Ceres in the first round of the playoffs. Two days later, he canned five more 3s and scored 29 points in a victory over Placer.

Sierra’s season ended near the mountaintop, with losses in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV final and first round of the Northern California tournament.

“With him, he always seemed to step up in those big moments – and he has over his career at Sierra,” Alexander said. “That’s a good thing to have in your artillery.”

The confidence comes from preparation. After practice, Nunez would shoot 700 jump shots at the Boys and Girls Club, along with ball-handling drills and weight work at 24 Hour Fitness.

“It’s all about heart,” Nunez said. “How bad do you want it during games?”

Speaking of game…

All Alexander leaves behind at Weston Ranch are targets and gold standards for the next set of hoop heroes.

The 6-foot-3 dynamo is the program’s career leader in points scored after averaging more than 18 points per game this season. For his career, Alexander never averaged fewer than 16.6 points.

He ramped up his production for the Cougars’ playoff run, which included a 22-point performance in the school’s first-ever win in the NorCal tournament.

In five games, he averaged roughly 21 points per outing.

“Dylan is a great player. He can shoot, take you off the dribble and defend, too,” Nunez said.

“When he gets on fire, watch out. It’s hard to stop him. If he’s shooting 3s, he’ll go right past you. Dylan can be pretty hard to guard.”

Here’s something you may not have known about the two: Though both have been cast as jump shooters, they each have the ability to attack the rim.

Lewis got see some of it at the showcase, where Texas Tech and UC Santa Barbara headlined a field of college scouts.

“Guillermo can score from all over,” Lewis said. “But I was more impressed with him finishing around the hoop. He can finish well and attack, which he didn’t do much of in Sierra’s system.”

And Alexander, coach?

“With Dylan, until you work with him and see him a little more, he’s such a natural athlete. He’s crazy athletic,” he added. “Some of the dunks he would try and get while we were scrimmaging were just unreal.

“That’s not something he shows in games or on a day-to-day basis. He has so much skill.”

Roll tape.

There is a video of Alexander dunking garnering attention on YouTube. In the clip, Alexander drives baseline and throws down a one-handed dunk over a teammate.

“People know me as a shooter; that white guy who can make 3s,” he said. “But if you give me a chance, I’ll get to the rack. If I’m going aggressive, I will dunk on you.”

The two share one last quality: Both are diamonds in the rough.

Neither has committed to a two- or four-year college. There have been offers and overtures, but these MVPs seem content to let the recruiting process play out.

Nunez has worked out for Notre Dame de Namur and has generated interest from several Cal State programs.

Alexander said he’s only talked to a few schools, but hopes something more concrete will come from this recent showcase.

A package deal, perhaps?

It’s unlikely, but there are two eager to add to their childhood memories.

“We picked up right where we left off,” Alexander said of their play in Los Angeles. “We still have that chemistry.”

Said Nunez: “There isn’t anybody else I’d rather share (MVP honors) with. I love him. We’re like brothers.”