By Ray Hamill — It’s been two years to the day since Ryan Bisio was hired as head coach of the College of the Redwoods men’s basketball team, and what a two years it’s been in so many ways.
Bisio has begun a revolution of sorts with the Corsairs, catapulting the winless team he took over to the top of the Golden Valley Conference and into the NorCal Tournament, while capturing the imagination of the local sports community with an exciting brand of basketball that features mostly home-grown talent playing in front of packed houses.
He has also had to endure one of the lowest moments in the program’s history, a cancelled season and a shutdown the likes of which we’ve never seen on the North Coast before.
“It’s been a rollercoaster of a ride,” he said.
To say the least.
The good news is the Corsairs are back on the practice court this week and back playing the game they love to play, allowing Bisio do what he does best in preparation for next season.
“It’s been a great week,” he said. “Playing a lot of five-on-five, and frankly that’s not something they’ve been able to do for the last year.”
With their season canceled because of the pandemic, the Corsairs are still hoping to play a couple of scrimmages later this spring, perhaps one against Humboldt State.
Aside from that, they’re just preparing for next year, when they should come back stronger than ever and with an even bigger appetite and appreciation for the game after such a long layoff.
Especially the outstanding group of local sophomores, who joined Bisio at CR shortly after he was hired when he sold them on his vision for the team.
Together they haven’t disappointed.
“I felt we were very clear about what we wanted to achieve, and we were really able to reach those goals in that first year,” said Bisio, who has benefitted from a coaching staff that includes Justin Claus and Taylor Morrow.
The Corsairs will have to find a way to replace a couple of key players from that historic 2019/20 team, most notably first-team all-state selection Thomas Nelson and talented sixth man Isaac Puzz.
While admitting that Nelson in particular is “a big piece to fill,” Bisio also knows he has a lot of talent coming back, including four starters and several players who red-shirted last winter, as well as having his eyes on a few local high school seniors.
He has 12 players signed up for practice, not including last season’s Big 5 MVP, Omar Banuelos of Del Norte, who has opted out this year but is expected to be back with the team in the fall.
The players on hand include Fortuna’s fearsome foursome of Zac Claus, Drew Gillette and Bradley and Donald Willis, as well Eureka’s Zach Reed, who red-shirted last winter along with Octavion Williams, Brandon Johnson and Kenny Hodges, each of whom is also back.
Among the newcomers on hand are Montgomery’s Brandon Lucas, Ferndale’s Gio Magdaleno and Tristan Waters, and Arcata’s Niko Zambas, who are looking sharp early.
“I think they’ve come in this week looking pretty good,” Bisio said of his players. “We did generate some momentum in the fall and they’ve done a good job of maintaining that.”
As for the future of the team, Bisio is hoping to continue on what they began two years ago.
“I love coaching at CR,” he said. “It has been such a gift to be able to coach here, and my hope is we can continue with the same blueprint for success and retain the local talent.”