Despite being the best team in its section the past two seasons,
has grown accustomed to flying under the radar.
When the playoffs roll around, however, count on the Knights to make plenty of noise.
Ranked No. 1 in the Central Section and 14th in California by the Freeman Rankings
, Bullard is seeking its third-consecutive section title and has become the sport's standard bearer for the region known as the "Valley." As such, the Knights have added incentive to perform well when they travel outside their section.
A case in point was Monday's game against Los Angeles City Section foe Dorsey at the Martin Luther King Showcase in Los Angeles. The Knights raced to a 9-0 lead and made 12 3-pointers on their way to a 75-49 rout, their 16th victory in 18 games.
"We're a great 3-point shooting team and we're good at finding the open guys," said senior guard Corey Silverstrom
, who sank four 3-pointers and scored 24 points. "Tonight, I was hot from the outside and my teammates found me."
The Knights are currently ranked 12th in the MaxPreps Southern California Boys Basketball Rankings
and have 10 seniors on the roster. That veteran leadership is a big reason they have maintained the high level that got them to last year's Southern California Regional finals, where they fell to Mater Dei (Santa Ana) after knocking out City powers Westchester (Los Angeles) and Taft (Woodland Hills) and Southern Section powerhouse Long Beach Poly on a wild buzzer-beater
"If teams cover our wings, we have a lot of shooters we can go to,"
said senior forward Taran Malhi
, who had 12 points against Dorsey. "It's all about taking what the other team gives us. We're pretty versatile -- we like to be near the rim, but we're effective from the outside too."
Bullard's only two defeats are to Sheldon (Sacramento), the top-ranked team in the Sac-Joaquin Section and ninth-best in the state, and Centennial (Corona), ranked fourth in Southern Section Division I-AA and fifth in the state. Among the Knights' victims are Salesian (Richmond), Lincoln (San Diego) and area rivals Central (Fresno), Clovis and Clovis East.
"Players on other teams tell us we do a good job representing the Valley, which is important to us," Malhi said. "A lot of our guys are battle-tested and that experience will help us down
the line. As far as where we belong in the state playoffs, I haven't given it much thought. We can't get ahead of ourselves. There's a long
way to go."
Whether heading north to the Bay Area or south to Los Angeles County, Bullard enjoys every opportunity it gets to measure itself against the best teams in the state. The Knights won 32 games last season and were one win away from the Division I state championship game in Sacramento. The year before they won their section but lost in the first round of the state playoffs to Etiwanda.
"Pressure-wise it doesn't bother us because we want to win no matter what, but winning does put us on the map," said Silverstrom, who has yet to commit but is being sought by Chico State and Point Loma Nazarene. "Sometimes the Valley gets overlooked in terms of recruiting and rankings compared to L.A. and Sacramento but there are some quality teams in our section and we want to make a name for ourselves."
Located smack dab in the middle of a state as large in both area and population as California, the Central Section is "no man's land" when it comes to the state regionals. It is the northernmost of the four Southern California sections, but Bullard coach Tony Amundsen believes the Central is a better fit in the north.
"It makes more sense [to be in the north] and I think it would make for a better state tournament," Amundsen said. "First off, it evens out the number of teams in the North and South. Also, it gives the North more Division I teams because north of Sacramento all the teams are Division II or lower. It might also create room for more quality teams from the Southern Section that otherwise wouldn't get in."
Amundsen has advocated for relocation for several years but doesn't see the format changing anytime soon.
"I've talked to people on the committees that decide those things and some are open to the idea while others are strongly opposed," he said. "Sometimes change takes a while."
The Knights' immediate goal is capturing their fourth league crown in five seasons under Amundsen. To do so they'll have to get past Edison (Fresno), which already has more than 20 wins under its belt and is ranked third in the Central Section behind last year's two finalists -- Bullard and Clovis West.
"Just winning the [County/Metro] league is going to be tough, let alone our section," Amundsen said. "Eight of the top 10 teams in our section are in Division I, which means they're in our playoff bracket. In addition to all the teams in Fresno, there's Tulare Union and strong teams down in Bakersfield like Bakersfield, Stockdale (Bakersfield), Liberty (Bakersfield) and Centennial (Bakersfield)."
One of Bullard's trademarks since Amundsen arrived is suffocating defense. He knows every win earns more respect for his program -- and the section it represents -- and playing hard-nosed defense is the key to winning on a consistent basis.
The Knights have two solid point guards in starter Chris Russell
and sophomore Austin Armstead
and a bevy of shooting guards, led by seniors Silverstrom, Adam Armstead
(Austin's brother), Jarred Morrill
, Shayon Falls
and Terence Garcia
. Bullard has scored 70 or more points 11 times and is allowing 50 points per game.
"We care most about defense and intensity," Malhi said. "That's what characterizes this program. We pressure the ball and pride ourselves on playing as hard as we can every minute of every game."Watch more videos of Bullard basketball