By Bonta Hill and Nick Squires
Editor and Staff Writer
Justin Labagh, reigning California Coach of the year, has no expectations for the new season. With 10 new players, one sophomore transfer, and only two returning players, Labagh hopes his team will be considered the underdogs, which is almost impossible after winning the Coast Conference four seasons in a row.
The Rams will have to replace Roburt Sallie, named 2007 California Player of the Year, who moved on to play for the University of Memphis in Tennessee, and 1st team All-State member Justin Brownlee. Both players combined to average over 32 points, 14 rebounds, 9 assists, and 4 steals per game.
Playing a successful season won’t be an easy task, but Labagh likes what he has this year. “I expect them to work hard as hell,” Labagh said. “[It is the] first time since our first year coaching [at City College] that nobody knows what’s going to happen. [But] I like this year’s team. They would have given our team last year trouble.”
What we do know so far is that the new team is deeper than last year’s. This year, Labagh says he is planning to have a rotation of 10 players, instead of a rotation of only seven players, which was the case last season.
After an off-season which saw the Rams working out twice a day in two 8-week stints with another 6-week stint in the weight room, the team will continue to play at the high-octane pace it’s accustomed to.
“The post players play well together, we mesh pretty good,” sophomore point guard Andre Davenport said. “We can put any guy in any position.”
Labagh credits returning center, sophomore Milos Nikolic, for a great off-season and noted that Nikalov almost lived in the weight room.
Forward Deron Sims is looked upon to become the glue and leader for the Rams.
“Milos Nikolic had an unbelievable off-season, I like where he’s at,” said Labagh. “We’re going to look for Sims to be our leader, to anchor our defense.”
The Rams are facing the toughest schedule in Northern California. Most opposing teams will be feasting on their inexperience. Still, there is a quiet confidence they will be able to go as far as last season and go even further than the elite eight teams.
“At this level there’s going to be inexperience every year, which is going to be a factor,” Labagh said. “No one has a tougher schedule in northern California than us. But we’re going for it.”
Right away these Rams will be put to the test in this weekend’s Marines.com Tip-Off Classic, which will be hosted in the Community Health and Wellness Center on Nov. 7-9.
“As long as we play together and don’t get selfish, we should be straight,” Sims said. “We know we can score, but defense is going to win us a championship.”
“At the end of the day it’s just basketball and we’ve been playing for a longtime,” Davenport said. “I’ve been to the state tournament, and I’ve gotta get back there. I know what it takes to get past that.”