(Jesse Lujan Jr. is shown dribbling a basketball as he plays for the Selma Bears in February 2011. Lujan played 56 games for the Bears averaging 20.3 points per game. The first Jesse Lujan Jr. Memorial Basketball Tournament will be held Jan. 2-5, 2013, at Selma High. )
The memory of former Selma High basketball player Jesse Lujan Jr. will live on in the inaugural Jesse Lujan Jr. Memorial Basketball Tournament Jan. 2-5, 2013, at Selma High. “He is gone but never forgotten,” said Selma High basketball coach Mike Pallesi. “He is in our hearts. He left a lasting impression on everyone of what a fierce competitor he was. For us to have a tournament in his name, I hope it’s not too emotional, but it is something that we are doing to uphold his memory,”
Jesse and Anthony Caro, both popular Selma High athletes, died in a car crash July 25, 2011, near Selma. Jesse would have started his senior year that August. Anthony had just graduated from Selma High.
The tournament was the idea of the Selma High boys basketball boosters, Pallesi and Jesse’s father and stepmother, Jesse Sr. and Connie Lujan. They all wanted to do something to honor Jesse’s memory.
“Coach Pallesi had a big part in it,” said Jesse Lujan Sr. “We basically got together and decided to do something he that he loved to do. He loved to play basketball. He was always in the gym so we decided to have a tournament in his honor. Basketball was his No. 1 love so we thought that this would be a good way to keep his memory alive.”
The tournament will showcase 10 teams from around the Valley — Kingsburg, Reedley, Coalinga, Madera South, Sierra, McLane, Fresno, Parlier, Fowler and Selma High schools.
“Basketball was everything to him, that’s all he wanted to do,” Lujan said.
Jesse started 56 games both at point guard and shooting guard, averaging 20.3 points per game for the Bears.
“Jesse was brought up as a freshman to the varsity basketball team and was embraced by every senior and upperclassman,” said Selma High athletic director Randy Esraelian. “Jesse was very popular with his basketball peers, as well as very respected for his basketball talents.”
Esraelian said people came to watch him play the sport he loved.
“Jesse obviously meant everything to Selma High School,” he said. “He was someone who played basketball at a high level. He was a fierce competitor, who the community loved to watch compete.”
Although on the court Jesse was a fierce competitor, off the court you could always find him with a smile on his face, his coach said.
“He liked to have fun,” Pallesi said. “Whenever Jesse was there, a joke was going on. He like to cut up and have a good time. He always lightened the mood of the players.”
His father said his son loved to put a smile on people’s faces.
“He was kind of a clown,” he said. “He was always clowning around and joking with a big smile on his face. He was always playing sports or was coaching sports. He wanted to be a P.E. teacher, that was Jesse.”
Jesse started playing basketball after watching his uncle, Noe Garza, who played at Parlier High School. Garza and Jesse played basketball in front of the Lujan home, and Jesse wore his uncle’s No. 5 in his early years playing sports in Little League and Selma youth football. After his death, his No. 5 jersey was retired by the Selma Youth Football League Bears. Jesse also wore No. 5 on the Selma high school baseball team.
He wore No. 24, the number of his favorite basketball player, Kobe Bryant, in basketball.
Jesse’s father appreciates all the support the community has shown his family.
“I would like to thank the boosters, coach Pallesi, Selma Unified, the whole community for everything they have done,” his dad said. “They have been there for us through a tough time. I could never repay them for that.”
Jesse’s father hopes that the tournament will focus on the joy Jesse gave to them and the community. “Once a year we will be able to focus on him and be able to focus on the good times he gave us.”
Pallesi said Jesse’s memory will never be forgotten.
“When other coaches coached against us, they would say that when Jesse passed away it took our heart away, it took our toughness,” Pallesi said. “So I think that is the legacy that he left behind is that he was the heart of our team and he was a fierce competitor and a phenomenal shooter.”
Proceeds from the tournament will go to the Jesse Lujan Jr. Memorial Scholarship Fund at Selma High and Selma High boys basketball.