By Andrew Giancarlo
It’s May 16, 2022 in San Francisco, California. Coach Justin Labagh stands stoically with a look of determination as Mayor London Breed calls him to the podium. Labagh shakes hands with Breed in front of the Mayor’s Office as a gradual smile gives out for the committed coach. The City College of San Francisco’s Men’s Basketball team are being congratulated on recently winning the Junior College State Championship. City College has just beat West Valley to be crowned champions of the Junior College basketball league in California. This was Labagh’s fourth championship in his 18 years with the team. The Rams have taken down West Valley in blowout fashion, with a score of 91-66. It had been a long road to victory and a tough matchup against a very good West Valley team. Naseem Gaskin was named the MVP of the tournament as he was the star of the show collecting 20 points and 14 rebounds in the championship game.
City College of San Francisco has been known for a lot of things, including at one point being the largest Junior College west of the Mississippi River. As the school shrinks, the athletic program persists. As a new basketball season begins, it is worth taking a look at the history of the team and what the future may hold. In the last two seasons the City College basketball team has been phenomenal. After extensive interviews with head coach Justin Labagh and guard Willie Williams III, the truth has been uncovered behind the success and commitment of both the players and coaches throughout the last few seasons. Can the continued success of the athletic program be a catalyst to the college’s revival?
The Rams have been guided in the right direction by head coach Justin Labagh who has many accolades himself. Since joining the team in 2004, the City College basketball program he steers has had a combined record of 518-61 which makes up a winning percentage of .894. Labagh has seventeen Coast Conference Championships, four State Championships, four Final Fours, and has won the California Coach of the Year ten times. Labagh is the only active coach in the CCCAA with more than one State Championship and is currently tied with legendary Hall of Famer Jerry Tarkanian with four State Championships. Just in the last two seasons, the Rams basketball has had a record of 61-5. If this were the NBA, City College would have the best regular season record of all time. Players from all around California are attracted to come here and contribute to the overall success of the program.
City College was given recognition in 2015 when Deion Wright, a current player for the Washington Wizards, was drafted in the first round of the NBA draft. Wright, a Los Angeles native, took his talents up to San Francisco before transferring to the University of Utah. “When coaching Wright we thought he was undersized, we knew he had talent but he was skinny. We didn’t think he was going in the first round,” said Labagh. Wright isn’t the only elite talent to come out of City College. In the last twenty years the program has produced 67 Division 1 players and 24 DII/DIII players. Labagh’s attention to detail has been the name of the game as he reiterated his expectations for the team. “We run this program like a Division I program, we have lifts, study times, and we condition our players right. The talent we attract know what they’re in for.”
Given the past success, the team has had a positive outlook for what is next for this coming season. Labagh had this to say: “We have a whole new group of guys this year. It’s going to be interesting to see what the chemistry looks like this season but we’re all excited.” Being a graduate of Berkeley and playing from 1995-98, Labagh is no stranger to being a key component to competition.
Willie Williams III is the only returning player for City College this season. Before a recruitment to the college he was a two-sport athlete at Deer Valley, a high school in Antioch, California. Willie is approaching this season looking to move forward and make a name for himself before transferring to a four-year university. Williams made the most out of the opportunities last season, averaging 6.8 points per game with an average of only 2.5 minutes on the court. If Williams played forty minutes a game he would average over one hundred points, while the only player to ever do so in a game was NBA legend Wilt Chamberlain.
Williams III, a running back in high school, says that his time on the gridiron allowed him to be more physical and attributes his success on the court to being a two-sport athlete. The biggest question going into this season is what to expect. What happens to the reputation of this program if it all goes south? Given Labagh’s track record it may be foolish to ask, but the reality is no one knows.