For most NBA teams, the process of turning a franchise into a contender can take up to five years. Maybe more. For most community college basketball teams, it’s a year-to-year basis, and the process begins on the first day of practice and continues through each game.
The City College men’s and women’s basketball teams have had similar ups and downs in the starts of their respective seasons. But since Big 8 play began on Dec. 21, each team is starting to figure things out.
The men’s team is 10-8 through Jan. 8 with a 2-3 standing in the Big 8 Conference.
“We’re in the middle of seven games in 15 days,” said Coach Andrew Jones. “We’re down to eight guys. We lost a starter to grades. The difference between wins and losses is typically rebounding. We’re very small. If we take out [our big men], we don’t have anyone who’s taller than me.”
Jones is 6-foot-1 at best. That is the same height of his most productive player.
Sophomore Troy Owens leads the team with 19.5 points per game primarily as the team’s sixth man. Jones had mostly utilized Owens off the bench as a spark plug for the Panthers’ offense. But over the first five conference games, Owens ranks second among all Big 8 scorers with 25.2 points per contest, which has forced Jones to insert Owens into the starting lineup.
“His job is to get buckets,” said Jones. “I think he’s settled into starting the rest of the way. We liked using him as a sixth man because we liked having that scoring burst off the bench. But we were having some slow starts, so we said, ‘You know what? Let’s put him in early’.”
The lineup change has paid dividends thus far. Owens nearly hit his season average in the first half alone against American River College Jan. 6 with 17 points as City College led 51-42 at halftime. Owens finished the game with a season-high 33 points with six 3-pointers as the Panthers held on for an 89-85 victory, snapping a three-game losing streak.
Point guard Raphael “Cinco” Durr became the fourth player in City College history to record a triple-double with 13 points, 10 rebounds and 12 assists along with five steals.
Owens’ 33 points tied him for the ninth highest total by a City College player in a single game and is the most points scored by a single player in a game since 2014.
“We needed that,” said Owens, who transferred to City College after sitting out one season after leading Diablo Valley College in scoring in 2015-16. “I was just trying to take it easy tonight and take the open shots. I’m getting a better feel. It’s just a process, and it takes some time to get the feel of real game play again.”
Coach Julia Allender’s women’s team started off slowly, but currently sits in fourth place in the Big 8 with a 3-2 record (6-9 overall).
The Jan. 6 game against American River College saw a steady trend of Brandy Huffhines feeding Dejanet Porter and Kelsie Graf for uncontested 3-point buckets. Porter led the Panthers with 18 points, including 5-of-8 from beyond the arc. Huffhines flirted with a triple-double with 14 points, 13 assists and six rebounds in the 64-48 victory.
Before the win over ARC, City College struggled severely from the 3-point line, hitting just one of their 30 attempts in their first two home games. But the team connected on nine of their 19 shots from long distance against the Beavers.
Allender said she was pleased with what she saw.
“We shot the ball extremely well,” she said. “(Struggling with the three) has been rare for me as a coach. We’ve had quite a few days off, which I think helped. It’s a tough adjustment for freshmen because of how we practice, the length of our practices and the intensity of the games. Getting their legs back has really helped.”
Leading up to the Jan. 6 game, Huffhines led the team, averaging 13.5 points and 2.6 assists per game, while shooting over 36 percent from 3-point land. The freshman guard upped the ante during the Panthers’ first four games with 16 points per game on 49 percent shooting, including 42.9 percent on 3-pointers.
Many of the other players have also increased their numbers once Big 8 play began.
“I think it was kind of a reality check,” said Huffhines. “Now that we’re in conference, everything from here plays into the playoffs. I think everyone just got more serious. It should’ve been like that to begin with. Slowly, our team is beginning to adapt to that competitive mentality.”
The next contest for both the men and women will be Jan. 9 at Cosumnes River College, with the women set to tip off at 5:30 p.m.