Rams have State Final 8 aspirations

Ibn Zaid is one of three returning players who played key roles on last year's conference title team. Photo by Kelli Goodman.

Last year, the Gavilan College men’s basketball team won its first conference championship since 1969, including a victory in the California Community College NorCal playoffs. This season, the expectations are even higher. Loaded with a deep and talented roster, the Rams are primed to make the State Final Eight for the first time in program history. 

“We talk a lot about competing for another conference championship and would really like to get ourselves to Ventura, the site of this year’s State Elite Eight,” said Dallas Jensen, who is in his second year as the Gavilan coach. “Last year we were a game away.”

Gavilan entered the week at 5-0 and ranked No. 2 in Northern California, behind only perennial state powerhouse City College of San Francisco. Entering Tuesday’s game against one of the state’s top-ranked teams in Allan Hancock, the Rams couldn’t wait to measure themselves against one of the state’s best. 

“We just want to continue doing the things we’ve been doing,” Jensen said. “Staying disciplined, being efficient, playing with a lot of energy and effort, and making sure to staying true to who we are. I like the players we have and the way we play. The camaraderie and continuity is there, and we’re trying to improve game by game. … This is a huge game because this team (Allan Hancock) is one of the four programs from Southern California that were in the Elite Eight last year.”

Aided by another fantastic recruiting class, Gavilan features a loaded roster filled with athleticism, height and versatility. Save for three outstanding returners—Xander Bowers, Ibn Zaid and Mrad Abrha—the roster is entirely different, featuring true freshmen and transfers, including a couple from four-year schools. In two of the team’s first five games, Jensen had been able to get every single player on the roster into the game.

While that won’t happen on a regular basis, of course, expect Jensen to regularly use nine to 12 players, something only a handful of teams in the entire state have the luxury of pulling off. The Rams have several interchangeable players who can play multiple positions and push the tempo, the state of basketball today. 

“The game is kind of changing into position less basketball, where a lot of guys can guard multiple positions and dribble,” Jensen said. “We can sub a guard for a big and make adjustments on the floor depending on what subs we go for.”

Zaid and Bowers are coming off strong summer circuits, with both players being invited to showcase events in Dallas and Las Vegas in that period. 

“And Mrad has taken big strides in terms of his leadership and skill set,” Jensen said. “He plays very hard and that results in him making a lot of plays.”

Deion Ellis, a 6-foot-5 sophomore forward who prepped at McClymonds High, plays every position on the floor except point guard. Jensen said Ellis has been “a good leader and a handful for opposing team in isolation spots.” Daylon Potts, a 6-6 sophomore wing out of the Fresno area, plays every position except center. 

“Daylon has been blowing up,” Jensen said. “He handles the ball, is the ultimate competitor and plays with a non-stop motor. He’s been a mismatch nightmare for opposing teams.”

Potts had back-to-back 18 rebound games to start the season, a testament to his instincts and hustle to dominate the glass. D.J. Burgess, a sophomore and Oklahoma Christian-transfer, poses a physical presence along with freshman Tyler Harris, a 6-10 center out of Scotts Valley. Patrick Fisher, a 6-foot freshman guard out of the San Bernardino area, had 10 assists in the team’s win over Modesto two weeks ago. The point guard has an incredible four or five to one assist to turnover ratio, meaning he takes care of the ball and at the same time makes passes that leads to baskets. 

“Patrick is so heady with the basketball,” Jensen said. “He makes good decisions and knows where to get the ball to the right guy in the right spot. I don’t know if he has more than three turnovers the entire year (going into the Allan Hancock game).”

Even though the team has a handful of players who can go off for 25 to 30 points in a given game, the Rams have been sharing the ball early and often. The tremendous balance makes them extremely tough to stop, as anyone on the floor is capable of scoring. Gavilan opponents will have to pick their poison; unfortunately, poison looms everywhere on the floor.

“It’s pretty cool because we’re averaging well over 80 points a game, and our leading scorer I think is at 12 points per game,” Jensen said. “It’s very different this year, and so far the guys have been doing a really good job.”

Leave your comments