A.J. Shearon and Wes Davis began a family-like friendship long ago as basketball players at Liberty.
The two speak of changing cultures in communities around Bakersfield that are in need of positive influences and reasons to keep high school kids off the streets.
Now with Shearon in his first year as the head coach at North and Davis in year No. 4 at Foothill, the two coaches saw first-hand how the changing landscape of the basketball programs can be a link to improvement in Oildale and the east side of Bakersfield.
“I’ve had many conversations with coach Wes over the years when I was at (Fresno Pacific) and he was at Foothill,” Shearon said. “Just about what we are trying to do for the community. We both have such a heart for the community. Even though we both went to Liberty, our heart has always been on this side of town.”
On the court Wednesday night, led by a 27-point performance by Edward Turner, Foothill beat North 65-61 in a pivotal Southeast Yosemite League game.
Before and after the game, the two head coaches smiled and spoke about how changing the culture for both programs is the key to their success, win or lose.
“You can’t ask for anything better than to play your brother,” Davis said. “Best friend is an understatement. Truly my brother here. This is what it’s all about. We win, we lose, but no matter what we are going the rest of the way mapping each other's section championship run together.”
With Mira Monte at 15-2, the top-half of the SEYL is as good as any league in Kern County. A far cry from where the league was just a few years ago.
“For years, the SEYL has been deemed the weak league,” Davis said. “What we are trying to do is carry the SEYL on our back. Obviously you’ve got Mira Monte doing well. But back to us with our kids, and having a league game like this, is great.”
Foothill went on a 10-0 run midway through the third quarter to take a 47-38 lead. Prior to that sequence, Tymer Mitchell scored six consecutive points for North to give the Stars (7-11, 1-1) their first lead of the game, 38-37, early in second half.
Later, Turner went to the rim, scoring a basket and hitting the subsequent free throw to give Foothill (8-9, 2-0) a 57-55 lead with three minutes left to play.
“He stepped up as he should as a senior and as the player he is for us,” Davis said.
North, despite a 27-point performance by Shannon Ferguson, was never able to regain the lead despite Ferguson getting fouled off a made 3-pointer with seven seconds to play. Ferguson hit the subsequent free throw to cut the lead to 63-61, but Turner hit two free throws of his own to seal the victory.
“It’s really exciting,” Turner said. “It’s fun to see kids actually come to the games. It’s a lot of energy. It’s been a big movement for us.”
Foothill advanced to the Central Section Division IV semifinals last season and the additions of Elijah Seals (eight points), Warren Stingley (12 points) and Chaun Davis (12 points) this season have put the Trojans near the top of the divisional standings with Bakersfield Christian. Foothill played without sophomore standout Jaden Phillips, who is expected back for the second half of league play after suffering a quad injury.
Thirty-one years removed from the last state championship for Foothill and six years removed from a winless season, Davis said just giving the community reason to be excited is his motivation.
“That’s No. 1. Just proving hope for kids," Davis said. “Think about where we were as programs before both of us got here. These kids came in here with a losing mentality and truly that’s the hardest thing to do while building a program back up, and erasing that mentality.”
North has one of the strongest strength of schedules in D-III. The non-league schedule for both programs, despite the losing records, is key for both coaches.
“To come here and pour our hearts into these kids and develop a culture, we are still a very long way from where we want to be," Shearon said. "It’s early on in the process, but for us to be able to showcase where we are at on the court in front of a big crowd, win or lose, you’ve got to love it.”