By Ray Hamill — This year’s College of the Redwoods men’s basketball team has an ace up its sleeve heading into Saturday’s playoff opener against Consumnes River College.
The Corsairs have the sort of community support few community college teams in California can claim and they’re hoping it will be on full display when the two teams face off in the biggest game of the year for both.
“We have a (home) environment unlike anything else in the state,” head coach Ryan Bisio said. “And I’m hoping we can really pack the house. (The players) have had such a great season.”
With a record of 25-3, this year’s team has already set a program record for most wins in a single season, while also clinching a third straight Golden Valley Conference championship for the first time ever.
Not only that, but this team also has the unanimous conference MVP — Trey Neff — who was third in scoring in all of NorCal with 20.7 points a game and a first-team all-state selection.
At this stage of the season, however, there are no easy matchups and Bisio is expecting a battle from a Hawks team that has won 12 of its last 13 games and comes into the big showdown with a record of 20-9.
“They’re really big, really athletic and physically imposing,” the CR coach said. “I’m hoping we can adapt quickly to their speed and size and toughness. It’s going to be a real challenge.”
Neff is the third CR player in three seasons to receive first-team all-state honors, joining Thomas Nelson and Jon Nchekwube.
“He had an incredible freshman campaign,” Bisio said of the Medford, Oregon, native.
Nchekwube, one of three sophomores on the team — along with former Arcata Tigers Aidan Atkins-Salazar and Niko Zambas — could yet join Neff on this year’s all-state team after receiving an at-large nomination.
If he is chosen, that would give CR a remarkable two of the 10 all-state players.
He certainly appears worthy of the honor after setting a single-season team-record for rebounds with 484, as well as setting the program’s career rebounds record with 843.
Both marks were set in last week’s regular-season finale against Feather River.
And Nchekwube looks set to play a crucial role for the team once again on Saturday, although Bisio admits he will need help from his teammates.
“We have to rebound,” the CR coach said when asked about the keys for his team. “And we can’t rely on Jon. We have to rebound as a community.”
The good news for the CR players as they get set for the big showdown is that they are coming off a productive week on the practice court.
They also have approached the big games this year with a confidence and composure that suggests this team will be ready for the playoffs.
“We had a good week of practice,” Bisio said. “These guys have been real professional in the way they’e prepping for the matchup. We’re healthy, we’re clear-minded and we’re ready to go and compete.
“Any time you can host a playoff game at Redwoods, it’s a celebration and we’re hoping to have a great crowd tomorrow night.”
Tip off is set for 7 p.m. with doors opening at 5 p.m., and the game will be streamed live here at a cost of $8 for any fans unable to make the game.
And one other thing points to a CR win.
“It didn’t feel like our last practice (of the season) today,” Bisio said on Friday with a smile.