By Ray Hamill — Local sports fans are well aware of what a talented basketball player Isaac Puzz is.
What they might not know, however, is that he’s apparently a pretty good recruiter too.
On Tuesday afternoon, McKinleyville’s Puzz was one of six local senior standouts to commit their future to College of the Redwoods, joining teammate AJ Stubbs and the dynamic Fortuna foursome of Drew Gillette, Zac Claus and twins Bradley and Donald Willis.
It was a major statement of intent for both the program and the players, some of whom had multiple offers elsewhere but choose to stay close to home because of the fit.
“This is a very huge day for our program,” said new Redwoods head coach Ryan Bisio, who was hired just two weeks ago. “And very exciting for me personally.”
It all came about after a group conversation started a few weeks back by Puzz, and including the other five players.
All six have known each other for years and have played together on the same AAU team for the past couple of summers.
Talking in front of a gathering of family, friends and media at CR for the announcement on Tuesday, Puzz said he began the group text because he wanted to know where his summer teammates were going to continue their playing careers.
And it didn’t take long for the group of players to collectively decide to keep a good thing going together at CR, with some of them passing up on far larger four-year schools.
For the players, it’s a chance to continue playing together close to home, while for CR it was a major coup for the new coach.
“I couldn’t tell you the last time Redwoods has had multiple MVPs signing on the same day,” Bisio said.
From a talent perspective, the new head coach is getting a lot of shooters and arguably six of the most talented seven or eight seniors in the Humboldt-Del Norte League this past season.
But he likes a lot more than that about this particular group.
“I think you’re looking at a bunch of kids who love shooting the ball, and love connecting with each other,” Bisio said.
All six bring a reputation of being unselfish on the court and good teammates.
The Huskies recently closed out the most successful season in their program’s history by reaching the quarterfinals of the NorCal tournament, while posting 30 wins, the most by any H-DNL team, boys or girls, in at least a decade.
They thrilled their fans this winter, with a very entertaining brand of basketball, and all four will be hoping to take that up a notch alongside their new teammates at the collegiate level.
Stubbs and Puzz, meanwhile, led a Mack team that had its ups and downs this season, but both remained one of the few constants for the Panthers, while also winning a league title as juniors, the first for the school in a couple of decades.
Gillette, who was named co-MVP of the Big 5 over the weekend along with teammate Donald Willis, had other collegiate options both for athletics and academics, but decided he wanted to be a part of “bringing back the (basketball) culture” to CR, which has struggled to maintain much consistency for several years.
All six players seem to believe in the direction the new coach wants to take the program.
“It was just the perfect kind of set-up to be successful,” Gillette said.
Bisio recently joined the program after four very successful years at Arcata High and brings an abundance of coaching experience from elsewhere, including a stint in Denmark both as a player and coach.
The hire has been well received within the local basketball community, and one that appears to be paying immediate dividends.
On Tuesday, Bisio also introduced his two new assistants, Taylor Morrow and Justin Claus, the latter of whom is an older brother of Zac and one of the reasons the senior standout decided to join the team.
As for their expectations, most of these players are used to winning and have high hopes heading to CR.
“If you come for anything less than trying to win a championship in some way, shape or form, then you don’t deserve to come,” Gillette said.