Men’s hoops ready for tip-off

Mohamed Bafakih, Online/Sports Editor

There is a rather positive vibe surrounding the 2015-16 Bakersfield College men’s basketball team.

Despite coming into the California Community College Athletics Association preseason rankings unranked (votes are compiled by coaches) in both the state and regional rankings after a Southern regional playoff appearance last season, the team has key ingredients that last year’s cast didn’t have, which will play a vital role.

In regard to the rankings, BC head basketball coach Rich Hughes is accepting it as a moment for his players to use it toward their advantage, even after the team went 4-0 in the showcase at Cerritos over the summer.

“We’re not ranked, and I like that,” Hughes said, now in his 11th year at BC.

“Rankings are rankings, but I think they (the players) felt like ‘you know, hey, we went 4-0 and pretty much handled everybody and yet we’re not ranked’…for a coach, I think it’s good. It makes you hungrier – the guys are hungry. I think we believe, the players believe and know they’re good, and not getting ranked gives them that edge when we start playing.”

A key ingredient for this group will be in large part because of the experience. This is a group that has eight returning players as opposed to last year’s two, bringing essential experience and continuity with reigning Western State Conference- South MVP Deandre Dickson leading the charge. Dickson underwent surgery last month, but he is expected to be ready for the team’s season opener on Nov. 12.

Hughes mentioned how the experience was an advantage for the team.

“I think we’re further along than we normally are due to the fact there’s eight guys that have returned whether its last year or two years ago…it’s sure better than having 15 new players.”

Alongside Dickson will be first team all-conference guard Jameik Riviere, who averaged 15.7 points, 3.8 assists and 3.6 rebounds in 28 games for the Renegades and honorable mention 6-6 forward CJ Johnson.

The list goes on, however.

“Then you go the year before and you got a guy that averaged 8.0 points and 4.0 rebounds a game in Dequan Green, and then we have Lawrence Moore who was an honorable mention all-conference (player) his freshman year,” Hughes said.

“We also have a couple of other returners who may have not gotten the awards but played, so you’re comfortable in the sense you got eight guys that have played college games.”

Both Green and Moore sat out last season, but bring experience and firepower on the offensive end – an area BC struggled with last season.

As freshmen in 2013-14, Moore averaged 12.9 points while Green averaged 8.0 points per contest, third and fourth most on that team.

Secondly, the team makes up for better offensive performances with the given talent.

In 2014-15, the Renegades were led by the one-two punch of Dickson and Riviere, as they were the only players for BC to average double-figure scoring.

“We had two guys that could really consistently score, and we just didn’t have that third one,” Hughes said. “Hopefully our depth this year will help us a little bit more where we can count on some other guys to score besides the two we had last year.”

With Dickson and Riviere primed to have a breakthrough sophomore campaign, so are sophomores Green and Moore who have waited over a year and a half to return to action, which will benefit the team if they’re on the same page giving them a balanced attack last year’s team lacked.

“We’re top to bottom better, as far as talent is concerned,” Hughes said. “Are we a better team? That’ll be determined when we get out there and play…that’s as important as anything. You can have great talent, but if we’re not cohesive as a team that can hurt us.”

Western Washington University (Division II) sophomore transfer Nick Velasquez will be a contributor for scoring, particularly from downtown – an area where BC only shot 34.1 percent.

Velasquez, originally from Honolulu, Hawaii, attended Punahou High School – the same high school President Obama attended and was a first team all-state selection as well as being named player of the year for his conference.

“He shoots the ball extremely well, but he can also handle the ball and drive and can pass, so he just brings us another weapon. Night in and night out he can knock down shots,” Hughes said.                                                                                                                                              Hughes also believes rebounding will be better as well as scoring, but defensively, holding teams to the 60s or low 70s is still a factor.

Hughes knows mistakes will be made early on, but “our deal will be to progress each week, each tournament, and hopefully be playing at a really high level when we get into conference.”

The Western State Conference- South Division is filled with talent and the Renegades have all the tools in the shed to measure up against those teams – particularly back-to-back conference champions, Antelope Valley.

“As a coach, I think we can compete with anybody in the state,” Hughes said. “They [Antelope Valley] are the measuring stick and the team to beat however…there’s a lot of good teams in the conference, but for us, that’s going to be the team that we’re really going to eye and try to measure ourselves against because they’ve been there and won it,” Hughes said.

Ultimately it will come down to competing early on as BC will begin its season on Nov. 12 against L.A. Trade Tech in the Fullerton Tournament – a team that the Renegades lost to in three overtimes, 88-85, in the season opener last year.