The lifeblood for any college sports program starts with recruiting strong talent—preferably talented individuals who happen to be high character players as well. First-year Gavilan College men’s basketball coach Dallas Jensen seemingly has the pieces in place to turn around a Gavilan program that has been a non-factor in the California Community College scene for decades.
Case in point: the Rams went 3-1 in the NorCal Jamboree in late September, an early season preview showcase. Although the preseason Jamborees aren’t a tried and true predictor of in-season success, they do give a glimpse into the potential of a team.
Gavilan followed that with a season-opening tournament sweep, going 3-0 at the San Jose City College defeating Lassen College 67-55, San Jose City College 82-66 and Foothill 73-55.
And that’s where devoted community college hoops followers seem to be high on the Rams, who finished 4-20 overall and 1-11 in the Coast South Conference last season. Gavilan, which opens the season on Thursday in the San Jose City Tip-Off Classic tournament, has a nice blend of talent, with players who have prepped locally along with from out of state.
Ja-Mont Wilson, a 6-foot-8, 230-pound sophomore post, will be an absolute load for opposing teams to handle down low. A transfer from Division II program Cal State East Bay in Hayward, Wilson is trying to regain the form he showed before a meniscus tear forced him to take a medical redshirt season two years ago at Cal State East Bay.
Jensen said Wilson is drawing a lot of interest from four-year schools, because of his ability to run the floor, rebound, block shots and score on the low block. Jensen is excited because in Wilson the Rams have a legitimate big man who has the potential to dominate a game.
“Ja-Mont is a mismatch when he gets the ball 1-on-1,” Jensen said. “He got coached up well at Cal State East Bay, so if there is a double or triple team, he’s very efficient at finding the open man. He rebounds everything in sight and alters a lot of shots. He’ll be a force on both ends of the floor.”
Gavilan has plenty of height on its roster, with former Christopher High standouts Takoda and Xander Bowers as part of a talented front court. The brothers complement each other well on the court, bringing different skill sets to the squad. Takoda, a 6-6 sophomore forward, brings grit, toughness and great decision-making.
“Takoda has been awesome,” Jensen said. “He can stretch the floor and knock down perimeter jumpers and the 3 (point) ball, and he’s always doing the right things on the floor.”
Xander, a 6-7 freshman forward, is one of the most athletic players on the team, able to run the floor and beat opponents to the ball or to a spot. Jensen said he’s proud of Xander’s improved mental focus and work ethic, because the talent has always been there.
“Xander is going to help us in a variety of ways,” Jensen said. “Seeing how he develops and the potential he has, it’s going to be exciting if he stays focused.”
In 6-6 sophomore forward Ken Modica and 6-3 wing Stephen Williams, Gavilan has a pair of experienced and older—literally—players. Jensen said Modica and Williams are both “23 or 24,” and the most successful teams at the community college level usually have players like Modica and Williams on their roster.
Williams played at San Jose City four years ago, and is back and perhaps better than ever. Jensen said Williams is an extension of himself on the floor, a player who knows what the coach is trying to accomplish and relaying that message to his teammates.
“What’s great about Stephen is he’s taken a couple of guys under his wing,” Jensen said. “I have him at the 3 spot, but he can do a little bit of everything. The big kicker at what makes him so effective is he’s one of the best on the ball defenders I’ve seen at this level. He’s 6-3 but he’s got an almost 7-foot wingspan.”
Modica is from Louisiana but played at Marin College before transferring to Gavilan. Athletically gifted—“He’s one of the better leapers I’ve seen at this level,” Jensen said—Modica has been working on developing his all-around skill set. Modica can get up and down the floor like a gazelle, perfectly suiting Jensen’s up-tempo attack.
In 6-1 freshman guard Ibn Zaid, the Rams have a big-time playmaker who will make an impact on both ends of the floor. Zaid, who carries a 4.0 GPA and is academically eligible to transfer after one season, played at Taft High in Los Angeles and was looking at a couple of bigger name schools before deciding on Gavilan. Jensen said establishing relationships with players and their families go a long way in recruiting.
“Truth be told, we were a long shot to get him,” Jensen said.
Other players Jensen expects to make an impact include Brian King, Mrad Abrha and Alex Hammonds. Jensen’s motto is simple: control the things we can control, like effort, attitude, demeanor, and body language.
“Anything and everything you can think of, whether it’s in the classroom, relations, basketball or work, we want to make sure we’re making the most out of it and really setting the players up to be successful,” Jensen said.