A group of eighth-grade basketball players at Pacific Union appear ready to go on to make some serious noise at the high school level a year from now.
The Pacific Union boys closed out a memorable season over the weekend, finishing with a record of 24-1, and setting the standard among their peers this winter.
The Wildcats won every tournament they played at in the county, as well as taking a first place at the Chico All-City Tournament, which includes the best eighth-grade talent in the Chico area.
Their only loss all season came at the AAA championship game at the prestigious Crescent City Jaycees Tournament over the weekend, where they fell to Norwood Junior High out of Sacramento.
As a team, this year’s Wildcats left a standard that will be difficult to match.
But what impressed their head coach the most was the maturity the players displayed as athletes and competitors.
“More than anything else, it impressed me that an eighth-grade team could handle the intensity and the coaching and the demands we put on them,” said head coach Jason Francis, who has been coaching the players since they were sixth graders.
“They knew they were good, and we told them we were going to challenge them this year, and what impressed me was the unbelievable effort they put into trying to be great.”
The Wildcats got big contributions from numerous players, no one more so than point guard Brandon Bento-Jackson, son of current HSU women’s head coach Michelle Bento-Jackson.
According to his coach, Bento-Jackson displayed a rare basketball IQ for an eighth-grader in leading the team.
But he wasn’t the only star on this team.
Teammate Jack Clancy is, in his coach’s words, the perfect two guard, who can handle the ball and shoot, while center Jared Wallace provided the foundation in the paint for the rest of his teammates to thrive.
“He’s really developed his skills in the past two years,” Francis said of Wallace. “He’s become a force inside, and with his shot blocking.”
Josiah Gomez started at forward for the Wildcats and played a key role on a team loaded with shooters, evolving into a defensive force.
“He became our Dennis Rodman,” Francis said. “He fought for every loose ball.”
Another “excellent shooter,” Chase Coleman, rounded out the starting five, while Vlady Madero played a pivotal role off the bench and was, in his coach’s words, a sixth starter.
Caleb Camper, Coltyn Cornell and Carlos Oliveras rounded out an impressive roster.