Selma coach Randy Esrailian and his program aren't playing San Joaquin Memorial because two high-profile players, freshman Dwain Williams and senior Antonio Lawrence, checked into the program before the school year started under what at least can be said were questionable circumstances. Williams came to Fresno from Riverside County while Lawrence came from Jacksonville, Fla. He was one of that state's top players for the last two seasons and his mother works at the school. The school was investigated by the CIF Central Section over the two players in September and was found to have engaged in no wrongdoing.
The decision by Esralian and others at Selma High to not go up against the Panthers has hit a nerve throughout the state. A major feature on the forfeits, and the much bigger issue of the rampant transferring of top boys basketball players, appeared last week in the Los Angeles Times.
In the story, written by Eric Sondheimer, Esralian says, "They've made their choices and we're making ours. Selma is leading the way in cleaning up high school sports. We're willing to give up a chance for the league championship in order to get this issue to the forefront."
The Fresno Bee also had a major feature involving Selma basketball, but the forfeiture, which has already been covered extensively by the paper, received only small mention. The Fresno Bee prominently displayed a human interest story on Selma senior Nic Nelson, who is battling a potentially life-threatening disease.
Nelson was named a captain before the season by Esralian, but in Nobember he took a physical and was diagnosed with Fanconi anemia, which weakens the immune system and could lead to leukemia. Part of Nelson's treatment for the condition requires that he not attend school and can only leave the house on rare occasions, such as a trip to the hospital.
According to the story, written by the Bee's Bryant-Jon Anteola, Nelson is still listed on the Selma roster and is still considered a team captain even though he has only been to a few practices and games. The hope is that he'll be well enough at some point before the end of the season to play one minute of a game.
Selma senior forward Johnny Zapata perhaps best summed up the feelings of himself and his teammates when he told the Bee: "This season is for Nic. Every day we play for him, because we know how bad he wanted to be out there with us."
On the court, in the one game Selma did play during the week, Nelson would have been proud to see his teammates battle back from a 16-point deficit against Yosemite of Oakhurst. The Bears tied the score several times in the fourth quarter, but Yosemite won it, 60-58, when Matt Wilkinson connected on a 33-foot 3-point shot at the final buzzer.
The same night San Joaquin Memorial also lost. The Panthers faced Central of Fresno in a nonleague game and were knocked off, 76-73. Lawrence, the highly-touted transfer from Florida, scored 27 points for Memorial, but missed a 3-point shot at the buzzer that would have tied the score. The Panthers came into the game at No. 3 in the Div. IV state rankings.