Rams continue to trend up

Gavilan Sophomore Robbie Skinner brings the ball up the court during practice on Nov. 20

A year ago, David Kaplansky took over a Gavilan College men’s basketball program that had finished 1-22 the previous season. It’s apparent the former San Benito High coach has steered the Rams in the right direction.
Even though Gavilan went 3-21 in his first year, Kaplansky brought toughness and grit to a program that was severely deficient in both areas. The Rams (1-4) opened the season with a win over the same Merced team they will host in their home opener on Dec. 8. At 7 p.m. Before that, Gavilan plays at Ohlone-Fremont on Dec. 4.
“We didn’t get our first win last year until Dec. 13,” Kaplansky said. “We won two conference games after not having won a conference game in three years. We feel like we’ll have an opportunity to win more league games this year.”
Gavilan plays in the tough Coast Conference South Division, but Kaplansky feels his team will be prepared for the rigors of conference play due to the team’s tough non-league schedule that included Los Medanos-Livermore and Shasta. Recruiting is the lifeblood for any college program, especially at the community college level, where roster changeover is fluid.
Gavilan’s roster is more athletic and deeper than it was a year ago. Although the Rams made nine 3-pointers in the season-opening victory over Merced, it was fool’s gold, as the team lost its next three games by double digits.
“If anything, the team has been exposed,” Kaplansky said. “When you play tough teams, they are good evaluation games. That’s how we’ve taken it. We need to get a lot more paint touches and try to get the ball inside.”
The Rams have decent size with 6-foot-6 center Dylan Mitchell and 6-5 forward Laron Logwood.
“Dylan has been doing a nice job on the interior with rebounding the basketball, and we’re trying to get Laron more touches in the post,” Kaplansky said. “We seem to be a better team when we go inside-out.”
The Rams’ top two returners include former San Benito High standouts R.J. Collins and Robbie Skinner. Collins, a 5-11 off guard, and Skinner, a 6-3 forward, have been instrumental in leading by example.
“Robbie and R.J. are veteran players, and we’ll have them try to facilitate the team,” Kaplansky said. “R.J. is a great shooter and Robbie has done a nice job of attacking the basket and rebounding. I’m proud of their development.”
Kaplansky also expects strong production from Rob Jones, a 6-5 wing who prepped at Salinas High, and Isaac Sears, a 5-11 freshman point guard.
“Rob is a really athletic player who has done a nice job at the rim, and Isaac has done a nice job of handling the ball,” Kaplansky said. “He’s one of our better athletes, and we’re trying to get him to facilitate the offense and drive and kick and create scoring opportunities for himself and his teammates.”
Chrystian Harrigan has also made an impact early on, as he scored 11 points against both Merced and Porterville. Collins and Skinner spent their off-season together working camps and playing competitive games. The sophomore said this year’s team is much improved.
“We have more depth and more talent,” he said. “We have more of an edge to us this year.”
Collins worked on his ball-handling and jumper in the off-season, and he feels the mistakes the team has been making during the recent slide are correctable.
“The ball movement and other aspects of our game are easily fixable,” he said. “I feel our chemistry is improving, and that will raise the level of our game.”
Although Kaplansky would love to pile up victories, he said the most important part of being a community college coach is to transfer players to four-year schools, preferably on scholarship.
That’s exactly what happened a year ago as former Rams guard Mauricio Medrano earned a full-ride scholarship to play at Thompson Rivers University in British Columbia.
“Winning is not as good as being able to help these guys move on,” Kaplansky said. “We can capitalize on (Mauricio) getting a full ride—hopefully we’ll have more guys follow suit in the coming years.”

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