YUBA COLLEGE BASKETBALL: Small, but athletic 49ers tip off season today
After losing 10 players from last year's state runner-up team, Yuba College men's basketball coach Doug Cornelius is cautiously optimistic heading into tonight's season opener at City College of San Francisco's prestigious tournament.
Five of last year's Elite 8 teams are invited, including last year's state champion Fresno City College.
Two sophomores, a boat load of newcomers and no true post player make this year's 49ers squad an immediate underdog — even if they are ranked No. 3 in the state.
"We are very, very young and inexperienced," Cornelius said. "We don't have a lot to gauge ourselves on. I mean, ranked No. 3 is nice recognition for our program, but it could be unfair to these guys."
But as the Northern California region has come to know, one should never count out Yuba College.
Cornelius and assistant coach Ken Griffin may be working with their most inexperienced group in recent years, but they're also pushing the tempo with their most athletic class ever.
"These guys can jump out of the gym," Cornelius said. "We are small, quick and we are going to push things on both ends of the floor.
"These are high-character kids, they work really hard and they have all the confidence in the world. They believe they can beat anyone."
While experimenting with starters will begin this weekend, Cornelius has the luxury this year to shuffle a deep group of guards and forwards.
Achoki Moikobu, one of last year's returners will get the nod at shooting guard, while three-year starter at Jesuit High, Akachi Okugo, will run the point — two completely different guards in Cornelius eyes.
"(Moikobu) is not afraid to take the big shot," Cornelius said. "He has the experience now of playing at a high level. He's very offensive minded.
"(Okugo) is a scrappy, quick defender, and he likes to share the ball. He's a true point guard."
Starting at wing will likely be Chris Smith, a freshman Cornelius believes could end up being a "big-time player."
Smith, of Center High, finished last season as Pioneer Valley League MVP, Optimist All-Star MVP and one of the "best-shooting recruits" to land at Yuba.
On the block is where this team may find some struggles.
The tallest youngster on the team stands at 6-foot-6.
Jeremy Bubier (6-6), Vic West Jr. (6-5), Jaysen Williams (6-6) and Gary Melvin (6-4) will all spend time occupying the post.
While height may be an issue, athleticism is not.
Melvin, a tough "lockdown defender," will start at the four-spot, while Bubier will start at the five-spot.
Bubier finished his senior at Highlands averaging 20 points and 10 rebounds a game, and is one of many raw athletes who are still finding comfort in the Niners' system.
"There will be a learning curve," Cornelius said. "We have five guys who are working real hard, but they aren't your dominate post players."
A few intriguing pieces of the puzzle this season are Cedric Toles, Darrell Polee Jr. and Williams.
Toles was preparing to grey-shirt, but the team's most athletic player was activated just two days ago.
"He probably won't play this weekend, he has a lot of catching up to do, but he is a real high-flyer," the coach said.
Williams, by way of Minnesota and Texas, sought out Yuba College. When his community college folded the program last season, the 6-6, 220-pound "man" called Cornelius.
"Thank goodness he's here," Cornelius said. "He showed up looking like a man. He has tremendous upside."
Polee Jr. hails from Global Youth Charter, don't scoff, the wing led the state in scoring with 44 points per game and is expected to be one of the first players off the bench.
The only other returner is Yev Dyachenko, a 6-4 small forward, who battled a back injury last season. However, he appears to be at 100 percent, according to Cornelius.
"He's finally healthy and you can see it because he's more athletic, plus he's a great shooter," the coach said.
Yuba College will host its first tournament on Nov. 30, and season tickets are available by calling the athletic department.