The College of the Sequoias Men’s Basketball team came into this new season with high expectations. The Giants were returning three starters from a team that finished second in the Central Valley Conference with a 10-2 record, and won its final regular season games.
But the start of the season hasn’t been what 14-year head coach Rusty Smith expected. With a 3-6 record through three tournaments and a home game this year, Smith knows they have to play better. “We haven’t played consistently well, and it has been disappointing in performance and in record,” he said.
Even with the slow start, Smith still believes his team can reach its goal of winning the league and going the playoffs. “We still want to win a championship. I still think they can. We started off slow last year. I just hope they don’t wait until league again this year.”
One of the reasons for the high expectations was that there were three talented returners to this team, this year, and they are also returning starters from last year’s team. One of those, Chris Ross, a Bakersfield native, has been showing some of the first-year players the ropes. He tries to get freshmen accustomed to playing at the college level.
Ross explained his leadership role, “I want to show them how Coach Smith likes to run things. Also these guys are very coachable and wanting to learn.”
Ross shared the same disappointment as Smith when asked about the start of their season, but Ross also harked back to how last year’s team fared after a similar start, “We started off slow last season, but we began to build more chemistry as the season went on.” Still, he is optimistic that the Giants can win their league and secure a playoff berth.
Smith believes that his team can play much better, but also notes that they have played a very tough schedule, and have held several second half leads that have ended in losses. “We need to play harder and smarter for 40 minutes. We’ve had leads in the second half and haven’t finished.”
To be able to play consistently for a full 40-minute game, Smith knows he’ll need some production from his freshmen coming off the bench and stronger perimeter shooting. These he sees as two of his teams’ weaknesses right now.
“None of our freshmen have really stood out,” Smith elaborated. “So far they haven’t performed to their abilities. As a team they haven’t played to their capabilities. Perimeter shooting has been suspect so far.”
Another of the three returning starters–forward Brantley Bynum, an El Diamante graduate and team captain–talking about being a leader to the younger guys, understands how tough it is play at the JC level, “We’re a young team, these guys are trying to learn on the fly.”
When asked if the season would be a failure if the playoffs were not reached, Ross took a different tack. “It would be more of a disappointment if we didn’t make the playoffs, it wouldn’t be a failure.”
With the weight of carrying the freshmen this year, one wonders if the returners were putting a little too much pressure on themselves in the first few tournaments. Smith doesn’t see that as a reason for the slow start. “I don’t think they’re doing that, they still have good numbers, it’s a team game.”
Smith sees the experience of the three returning starters as a strength for this team. That was a big reason why the expectations are so high this season.
Smith emphasized the importance of experience with this group. “Anytime you have experienced players, expectations rise and they have to perform at a high level. At the JC level, experience is always important, but we need others to step up as well.”
As far as weaknesses are concerned, Smith sees a few that could be responsible for the team’s slow start thus far. “I see depth as a weakness, but not the biggest weakness. We need the whole team to step up.”
The team’s spirit, in spite of the slow start, is still upbeat. It’s a team with a good ethic, and with “a will to get better,” according to Ross.
The Giants will have an extended break from game play, traveling on December 12 to play in the Foothill Tournament vs. Canada College. They won’t play their next home game until December 19, when they will host the Mannon/Pepsi/Holiday Inn Tournament.