By Ray Hamill — Are you ready for some basketball?
The new local season officially tips off on Thursday when the College of the Redwoods men travel to play Sacramento City at the Napa Valley tournament.
The history-seeking Corsairs are the three-time defending Golden Valley Conference champions and will be looking to make it four straight titles under the guidance of head coach Ryan Bisio, who has enjoyed unprecedented success with the program since taking over the team in the spring of 2019.
“We’re excited to go out there and play,” Bisio said this week. “At this point, the growth we’ll need to make can only become apparent once we compete against another JUCO. I commend our guys for enduring the dog days of October without losing their zest for preparation.”
Some key players are back from last year, including reigning conference MVP Trey Neff, who was a first-team all-state selection and NABC All-American as a freshman, as well as his twin brother Ty Neff, who also played a key role on last year’s team.
Also back is first-team all-GVC selection Jett Cheong and GVC honorable mention Kai Purcell, each of whom enjoyed breakout campaigns with the Corsairs last winter.
Lucq Anderson is also back after playing a key role last year, while Purcell’s former Arcata teammate Mason Railsback rejoins the team.
Not surprisingly, the early season portion of the schedule features a lot of travel for the CR men, who will play their home opener against Simpson University JV on Nov. 27, just three days before they tip off their annual Coach Tregs Classic Tournament.
And naturally, coaches and players are eager to get the new campaign under way.
“Being unable to secure a preseason scrimmage has put us behind the eight ball a bit in terms of drilling down into locations for growth, but I think all of us are connected in our opinion that it’s time to go play someone,” Bisio said.
Two new players who are expected to have an immediate impact are Arcata’s Garrett Hall, who joins the team from Cal State San Marcos, and recent McKinleyville graduate Cody Whitmer, who was the 2022/23 Humboldt Sports Player of the Year after leading the Panthers to a thrilling Dick Niclai Tournament championship last winter.
Three straight conference titles also has earned the Corsairs some respect around the state, and the team tips off the new season ranked No. 12 in NorCal and No. 27 in California.
The roster also has impressed the coaching staff with its collective attitude and preparation.
“As coaches, we’ve been continuously thrilled by the collective character of our team,” Bisio said. “I’d hang out with these guys even if we weren’t a basketball team. What a phenomenal group of young men we’ve assembled.”
Bisio believes that will be particularly key for a group that spends so much time on the road together, far more than most JC teams.
“Last year, we were in the vans equivalent to driving to Atlanta and back,” Bisio said. “Given how much time we spend together on the road, it’s impossible to overstate how important interpersonal chemistry is.”
This year’s roster also includes Hoopa’s Joseph McGinnis and South Fork’s Oliver Tatton, as well as Mason Mottashad (Union Mine High School), Isidro Garcia (Santa Rosa), Luka Molin (Argonaut) and Paxton Page (Joel E. Ferris).
Associate head coach Justin Claus is also back, as is assistant coach Blake Rossman, along with new assistant coach Zac Claus.
The College of the Redwoods women’s team also tips off the new season this week, opening at Santa Rosa on Friday afternoon.