The only constant in the California community college sports scene is turnover—players coming and going and changes in the coaching staff was exacerbated by Covid, which wiped out the spring 2020, fall 2020, winter 2020 and spring 2021 sports seasons.
Despite the adversity teams have had to go through, the Gavilan College men’s basketball program seems to have weathered the adversity. The Rams don’t begin their season until November, but they’re primed for a solid season under coach Derek Jensen.
Once again, Gavilan has a talented roster and looks to rebound after a 10-18 record in the 2019-2020 season. Jensen is carrying 18 players on the roster and loves the makeup of the squad.
“I’m really excited about each and every one of them,” he said. “It’s a really special group; it really is. We have worked hard to find a culture of guys that fit, guys that want to work hard, guys that are good teammates, guys that are responsible. I wanted to find guys that match the overall vibe of myself and the rest of the guys on the team.”
Gavilan is nearing the completion of its six-week summer practice/conditioning session and will play in the preseason showcase jamboree at City College of San Francisco in September. The Rams return five players from the 2019-2020 team, including Tahjae Ordonio, a shooting guard out of Monterey High. The 6-foot-3, 170-pound Ordonio made the most of his time during the Covid shutdown, improving his physically and mentally.
“During the past year and a half I’ve improved on my athleticism—just being able to jump higher—and my maturity,” he said. “My basketball IQ has gotten better, just being able to make the right reads, knowing when to make the right play, and knowing when to be aggressive and not aggressive.”
Ordonio, who was an all conference selection in his freshman season, has impressed Jensen by improving in every facet of the game.
“Tahjae is our top returning player and has improved like crazy,” Jensen said. “He looks so skilled, so good, so smart and unselfish. He can score from anywhere on the floor.”
DeShawn Butler is the other returning starter off the 2019-2020 team. His twin brother, Franchon, is a freshman and the two are athletic, strong and versatile, Jensen said. Jaylin Williams, a 6-7, 250-pound freshman forward out of Gilroy High, plays well with his back to the basket but also can score in other ways.
Ferocious on the glass, It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Williams average double-digit rebounds per game.
“I think Jaylin is going to be a really key part of this team,” Jensen said. “Not only does he fit in talent-wise, but he fits in with everyone else and the culture we want to build. He’s a good kid who works hard and does it the right way.”
Williams is joined in the front court by Collin Williams, a 6-8, 225 pound center, and Jailen Daniel-Dalton, a 6-6, 215-pound forward.
“Jailen is a guy who can shoot, handle it, is strong, bouncy and can do everything,” Jensen said. “There is such a high ceiling for him.”
Cache Fields, a 6-5, 210-pound sophomore out of Pinewood High and a Utah Valley-transfer (Division I), has the ability to light it up from the perimeter.
“He’s very strong, athletic and an amazing shooter,” Jensen said.
Alijah Washington, a 6-3 freshman out of Piedmont Hills, “was probably the best player in the (Central Coast) section this past year and someone people are really excited about.”
Another incoming freshman Jensen is excited about is 6-5 Suheil Ibrahim, who like Ordonio is out of Marina and played at Monterey High. Caleb Onuonga, a 6-5, 195-pounder out of San Jose, brings a workmanlike mindset to the court.
“Caleb is one of the world’s greatest people and hardest working people I know,” Jensen said. “And Suheil’s ceiling is through the roof.”
Jensed added that the team has a lot of leadership from Alan Gonzales, Mo Dia and Mohanid Adam.
“It’s such an unselfish team,” Jensen said. “Every single one of these 18 guys is a good teammate. Each of them is coachable. They’re all humble.”
Other key players include Devean Hinton, Shody Johnson, Kashwell Pugh, Isaiah Lewis and Jadan Adams. Ordonio expressed confidence the team is ready to have a bounceback season after finishing eight games under .500 two years ago.
“The big difference with this team is it has more height, more length and more athleticism,” he said. “So we’re able to play offense very effectively and defense as well. We’re very unselfish and that is a pretty big factor to have good chemistry. We put our egos aside and play together, which is super important if you want to make it far.”
Ordonio’s dad, Jon, played for six years professionally in the Phillippine Basketball Association. Tahjae was born in the Philippines, but his family immigrated to the U.S. when he was 3 years old. Tahjae got to play together with his older brother, Kobe, for one year at Monterey and a year at Gavilan in the 2019-2020 season.
Kobe has transferred to Cal State Bernardino and Tahjae would join him there next year if the opportunity presents itself. The two played each other countless times growing up, and Kobe’s workmanlike attitude rubbed off on his younger sibling.
“Growing up beside him and being able to be by his side when he played or worked out allowed me to see his work ethic, which made me go harder,” Tahjae said.
Ordonio made the most of his time during the shelter in place order, staying sharp by shooting on outdoor basketball courts. Once things started opening up, he was ready to get to work in an organized setting. While things were tough initially, he came out a better player. The love Ordonio has for the game was instilled in him at an early age.
“I remember playing basketball for as long as I can remember,” he said. “It’s pretty cool looking at pictures when I was a kid because I either always had a basketball in my hand or in the background there was a hoop or ball laying on the ground. I had a little hoop inside the house so I guess you can say I was born playing basketball.”
Ordonio is particularly excited about this year’s team. Of course, Ordonio will play a huge role in Gavilan’s quest for its second conference championship in the last three seasons.
Emanuel Lee can be reached at [email protected]