Gavilan College men’s basketball head coach Tito Addison described the past 10 days as one of the most challenging stretches he has been through in his coaching career as he tried to manage his players emotions as well as get them prepared for Wednesday night’s season opener against Merced.
“It’s been probably the one of the hardest things I’ve ever done,” said Addison, who enters his sixth year with Gavilan. “I’ve been coaching 12 years now and that’s probably the most difficult week I’ve had with any basketball team – ever. It was very difficult.”
With part of their focus toward three of their teammates – Davontea Johnson, Billy Heard and Andrel Gaines – who were injured in a car accident Nov. 6, the Rams banded together for an inspired and emotionally charged effort in front of a receptive and supportive hometown crowd.
Gavilan shook off a 38-22 halftime deficit and pulled within five points midway through the second half, but needed a few more shots to fall down the stretch in a 63-48 loss to the Blue Devils.
“Two senses today: One sense of basketball wise, they didn’t play as great as I wanted them to play. But for a bunch of guys who had to recover so fast, I was very proud of them,” Addison said. “They came out, they were brave in their attempt. They kept their emotions in … So in that sense, I’m proud of them. But the basketball sense, we’ve got to figure a couple things out. Which we will.”
The Rams received an extra boost with Johnson, his right leg in a cast, at the end of the bench Wednesday night. Heard and Gaines remain in the hospital – Gaines on life support. All three were supposed to be part of the Rams starting five, Addison said. A moment of silence was dedicated to the players prior to tip-off.
“It was a huge lift,” Addison said. “I’ve talked to Davontea and I’ve talked to Billy Heard and I’ve talked to Andrel’s parents. And they Ok’d us to play today. And I told them that we were going to give it our best shot. But having Davontea today was a big lift for us, and he will be at practice tomorrow. And hopefully Billy will be able to come home soon also.
“(Billy’s) doing a lot better, he’s moving around a little bit. I’ve had phone conversations with him and I’ve been up to visit him, and he wished us the best. But obviously, our hearts and our minds are with Andrel right now and we have to find a way to move on and play a little bit better basketball for him.”
After a shaky – the Rams’ first basket coming seven minutes into the game – first half, which left the Rams down 16 at the break, Gavilan outscored Merced 18-7 to begin the second half and trailed just 45-40 at the 10:35 mark.
“We just slowed the game down,” sophomore Jordan Ramirez said. “We were playing too fast for ourselves. At halftime we talked about slowing it down and looking for the open shot and getting other teammates open.”
However, the Rams, who converted 14-of-56 shots from the floor, including 9-of-37 from beyond the arc, went cold over the final 10 minutes as Merced used its distinct size advantage to pull away.
“If there’s ever a time again where we get that many open looks, those shots are going to fall. And that’s how we are built,” Addison said. “Obviously, we aren’t going to pound the ball inside on many teams, our biggest kid being 6-3 at the most. But those are shots that we are built to make. And we have great shooters.”
Ramirez posted a game-high 20 points for the Rams, Zack Smith had 11 points and Matt Johnson and Derek Jensen had six apiece. Joshua Tatum led the Blue Devils (1-3) with 14 points.
“We try to focus once we are on the court and try to play our hardest,” Ramirez said. “But in the back of our minds and our hearts we are thinking about our teammates.”
The Rams (0-1) continue their non-conference portion of the schedule Saturday at Canada College in Redwood City.
“It’s been emotional. We just tried to prepare as best we can without those guys and practice as if they were out there with us. It feels good to get that first game under our belts, for me and the other freshman to get that experience,” guard Scott Taylor said. “The outcome is only going to make us hungrier for our next game.”