Ask any player on the Gavilan College men’s basketball team who they play for and you’re likely to get a surprising answer. From star Ibn Zaid, who said returning veterans are just as valuable as the newcomers; to sophomore Xander Bowers who said that everyone watches out for each other, the theme is clear: They don’t just play for a team, they’re members of a family.
“They all have my back and it just feels like one big family, and I know when I’m ever down they’ve got me and if I’m up they’re gonna be there too,” Bowers said after the Rams’ 70-60 win over De Anza on Jan. 18.
For a team that holds onto players for only two years at a time, it’s difficult sometimes to forge those deep bonds among teammates; however, this is not a problem for the Rams.
“From last year to this year, there’s only like three returners, but even with the new guys coming, you know from day one it felt like I’ve been knowing these guys for a long time,” said Zaid, last year’s Coast Conference South Division MVP runner-up.
A lot of these “new guys” coming in are some of the most talented basketball players in the California Community College Athletic Association (CCCAA). So what brings them to Gilroy? Well, Zaid’s reason is similar to just about every other player on the team,
“Coach Dallas (Jensen) really is the reason why I came here,” said Zaid. “The first time I met (him) and I saw just how genuine the kind of guy he is. He’s all about family and relationships. I think that’s why he’s able to recruit guys like me. He really helps us be men on and off the court.”
Since Jensen took over the program in 2017, he has overseen one of the most impressive transformations in South Valley Community College basketball history. The year before Jensen’s arrival, the Rams were 4-20 overall, and a dismal 1-11 in conference play. The next year, under Jensen’s leadership, the Rams capped a remarkable 24-5 season with the school’s first conference championship in 50 years.
And this season’s success proves last season’s accomplishment was no fluke. What’s Jensen’s secret? He said it comes down to one word: family. And when it comes to basketball families, Jensen knows what he’s talking about.
“My father and I spent hours in the gym as I grew up playing and we continue to talk basketball all the time,” said Jensen, whose father Kort Jensen is the coach Oakwood boys basketball coach, and his brother Derek Jensen is a Gavilan assistant coach. “When we’re together, (basketball) is all we talk about and my mom knows that, my wife knows that, and they’ve all kind of bought in to what we do and they know how passionate we are.”
Dallas Jensen instills that passion in his players every day, both on and off the court.
“I think for us, we’ve really had a big emphasis on relationships and making sure our players have totally bought in to the culture, the style of play, our identity and really treating the team like a family,” Jensen said. “There’s obviously been fantastic coaches that have been here before that have helped established that, and I think we’re just fortunate enough that we were able to come in and bring some good players that come from good families and everyone has bought in to what we’re trying to accomplish.”
Win or lose, Jensen knows that he’s already succeeding in a big way, not just because of the players he’s developing, but the young men he’s influencing—and inspiring. Still, with last season’s success, the team knows the pressure is on to keep winning this season.
“We want to get to Ventura where it’s the Elite 8 and State Championships,” he said. “We really prioritize goal-setting, whether it’s basketball, personal, academics, and we have really made a continued effort to focus on our goals and make sure we know what we’re trying to accomplish.”
For a lot of the players in the program, one of their biggest goals is to get the chance to continue playing basketball at a four-year university after they leave Gavilan, something Zaid has already been given the opportunity to do.
“I’ve actually had the honor to sign my active letter of intent to Eastern New Mexico, so one of my biggest goals is already checked off the list,” Zaid said.
Zaid may not be alone, either. The Rams’ winning ways are beginning to attract the attention of many four-coaches, something Jensen has to get used to. Yet for him, there’s a lot more that goes into picking that next college for his players, and it goes far beyond what they do on the basketball court.
“It’s interesting, a lot of young men when they’re getting recruited by colleges have (Division 1) aspirations,” Jensen said. “Obviously if they can swing it, fantastic, but I’m very frank with my young men when I recruit them and their families that I’m more concerned that they go to the right fit for them. I want to make sure that a young man is taken care of and he’s in a situation where he has coaches who are going to look out for him on and off the floor.”
For Jensen, coaching has always been about so much more than running plays and doing drills. It’s about establishing relationships, developing as a team, and maturing as people, just as if they were in a family.
“I think it’s great because my young men know I care about them so much and they also know I have a sincere love and passion for this game,” he said. “They’re able to come to me and talk about darn near anything on the floor and we’re able to have really open and fluid conversations about that, which I think is great.”