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Costa Mesa boys’ basketball turns to Jesse Mercado

Jesse Mercado is the new boys' basketball coach at Costa Mesa High School.
Jesse Mercado is the new boys’ basketball coach at Costa Mesa High School.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

The Costa Mesa High School boys’ basketball team earned its first win of the season so far on April 7.

The Mustangs blew out Anaheim, 72-28, at home. Come the next day at practice, first-year coach Jesse Mercado made his players do sprints.

“That was one of the biggest defining moments,” Mustangs senior forward Blake Wolf said. “It wasn’t like, ‘We won yesterday, let’s take it easy this practice.’ He told us, because we won yesterday, let’s do even more sprints. We were in so much better shape than them, and we want to keep that up.

“I realized, OK, this is how you maintain that level of play.”

It’s that high level that Mercado, who came from being an assistant boys’ basketball coach for two years at JSerra, seeks on a daily basis.

The 44-year-old Irvine resident, who took over after Mike Ofer resigned following last year, has high hopes for the Mustangs. On Thursday night, Costa Mesa routed defending league champion and crosstown rival Estancia 93-60 at home in Mercado’s first Battle for the Bell game.

The win improved the Mustangs, seeking their second league title in three years, to 5-6 and 2-0 in Orange Coast League play. That overall record is somewhat deceiving, as Costa Mesa played — and lost — against powerhouses like Villa Park and Trinity League opponents JSerra and Santa Margarita in the preseason.

“We’re right where I thought we would be, where I wanted to be,” Mercado said. “My whole madness of upping our schedule has really paid off. It’s taught my team to compete at a higher level, and hopefully to get some of the fear out of bigger and better teams and programs.”

Wolf and fellow senior forward Gio Quero are team co-captains for Costa Mesa, while sophomore point guard Christian Dasca also plays a key role. He’s the younger brother of Costa Mesa alumnus Nico Dasca, now at Vanguard University.

Jesse Mercado, the new boys' basketball coach at Costa Mesa High School, oversees player drills during practice on Friday.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

Mercado is excited to finally be in charge. He said he was also an assistant coach at programs like Irvine, Fairmont Prep, Villa Park and Saddleback Valley Christian before he was hired at Costa Mesa in February.

“I was obviously ecstatic to be able to run my own program,” said Mercado, who grew up in Santa Barbara and played basketball at Bishop Diego High before going to UC Santa Barbara. “I was also grateful at the same time. I looked at a couple of other jobs in the past, turned down a few jobs. I wanted the right situation where I could come in and make an impact, not just on the court but in the kids’ lives as well. Basketball is just a vehicle I get to use to help mentor and develop.

“It was a big change, because I came from the Trinity League to a [CIF Southern Section] Division 5AA [team]. It was definitely a big change, but at the same time, I was able to bring that experience in preparation for this season for [Costa Mesa].”

It seems to be working for the Mustangs, who only have three league titles on their banner in the gym — 2001, 2006 and 2019.

On Friday, after a 30-plus point win over a rival, the Mustangs again started practice with sprints.

“It’s honestly after every game,” Quero said with just the hint of a smile. “It never stops.”

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