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October 1, 2023

JUCO Basketball: Kaplansky eager to lead Gavilan men’s hoops revival

The Gavilan College men’s basketball team hasn’t won a conference game in two years.
Last year, the Rams finished 1-22. Out of the 22 losses, 15 of them were by 15 points or more, and five by 30 points or more. Despite the program’s lack of success, David Kaplansky was more than eager to take over this junior college reclamation project.
A longtime coach at San Benito High, Kaplansky enters his first year at Gavilan with an enormous undertaking—trying to make his team competitive.
“We understand winning games will be difficult, so we’ve made realistic goals,” Kaplansky said. “We just want to build off each day, and we’re pushing for effort, toughness and consistency. We understand other teams are extremely athletic and talented, and we all understand what we’ve gotten ourselves into. I understand it’s not going to be a quick fix, but if we can compete and raise expectations with our effort level, that will be first stride that we take.”
The Rams open up the season against tournament host Las Positas-Livermore on Thursday, and they’ve got some tough non-conference games, including a Nov. 19 contest with perennial state-ranked powerhouse program City College of San Francisco.
When Kaplansky was hired in late April, he was already at a disadvantage from a recruiting standpoint, as most high school players have either made a firm decision on where they’re going to play or are in the process of finalizing their choice.
Plus, as a first-year coach, Kaplansky has to establish himself and put a new stamp on the program to make it attractive to potential recruits. Kaplansky has no doubt he’ll eventually make Gavilan a basketball destination, but he knows it will be a long journey.
For now, Kaplansky loves the effort his players are giving him in practice, knowing all of the hard work will pay off in the future, if not sometime this season. With three returning starters in guards Albert Mendrano, Wyatt Madrid and Raman Bassi, the Rams at the very least possess some firepower from the perimeter.
Bassi, a 6-foot sophomore out of Sobrato, averaged 10 points per game last year while shooting an excellent 46 percent from 3-point range. Mendrano, a 6-1 sophomore, averaged 8 points per game last season.
Kaplansky was able to get forward Robbie Skinner and guard R.J. Collins—two of his standout players from last year’s San Benito team—to Gavilan, and they’ve made an immediate impact in practice.
“It’s nice to have guys who have been in and understand the system we’re running,” Kaplansky said. “Robbie is cerebral and tough, and R.J. has been great with his defensive effort and enthusiasm on the court.”
Collins is an excellent rebounding guard, and Skinner is the prototypical player for Kaplansky’s dribble-drive motion offense, which stresses spacing and creating gaps on the floor for dribble penetration to the rim for layups or kick-outs for 3-point shots.
“Guys like Robbie and R.J. are going to help me rebuild the program,” Kaplansky said.
The Rams have decent height in their front court with Takoda Bowers, a 6-6 center from Christopher; Rylan Ruelli, a 6-5 power forward out of Soquel; and Josef Delk, a 6-4 forward who prepped at Salinas.
“Takoda is a strong rebounder and tough in the paint, and he was probably one of our most complete players in the summer and fall (practices),” Kaplansky said. “Josef is probably our most athletic player on the team, and does a great job of playing at the rim. He gave our team fits when he was at Salinas, so I felt fortunate to land him. Rylan has a really high basketball IQ, and he’s got a lot of familiarity with the dribble-drive. He’s a great character guy to have on the team.”
Everyone in the Gavilan men’s basketball program knows it’s going to take a couple of years or more to establish a team that is just capable of a .500 record. It will take no less than a herculean effort to turn the program around, yet Kaplansky believes—check that, knows—it can be done.
“I’ve never taken over a program playing from such a low standard,” Kaplansky said. “We’ve talked about the history of our school and the only way to change things around is by out-working our opponents. We all understand where we are, and how far we have to go. But my job is to put Gavilan (men’s basketball) on the map and make it a place where we consistently move our players to four-year schools.”

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