After the biggest season-to-season improvement in the history of their program, the UC Santa Cruz men’s basketball team is out to build on momentum from last year.
After the team finished last season with eight more wins than in the 2007-2008 season, Gordon Johnson, who’s entering his seventh year as head coach, feels that the players are in top form and ready to up their game this season.
“I’m feeling really good about this year. The kids have come back in great shape and are really focused and ready to get playing,” Johnson said.
Team captain Brandon Sanchez feels as confident as his coach that the team will do well this year.
“Everyone is in real great shape, and has their priorities straight,” Sanchez said. “We’re working as a team and pushing ourselves and one another to get better.”
The Slugs went 11-15 last year (7-10 against Division III opponents), a significant improvement over last year’s record of 3-20. Guard Ryan Matsuoka believes this drastic turnaround is a sign that the team knows how to win.
“Last year we had the biggest turnaround in UCSC history,” Matsuoka said. “We really learned what it takes to win and play as a team.”
Coach Johnson acknowledges, though, that while the team has improved significantly from last year, they are still a work in progress.
“Finishing is something we can learn from last year; we had some real close games that were winnable,” Johnson said. “We also need to work on preventing the offensive rebounds, which really hurt us in a lot of those games.”
The team lost only one of last year’s players to graduation, which meant more experienced returning players this year. In addition, they were also able to gain players through college transfers, which added to the team’s roster.
“We got a lot of players coming back and some transfer students who are going to bring some real depth to the team,” Johnson said.
Coach Johnson has hopes for his team to go to an NCAA tournament, and he believes the key is to play a tough schedule that will push the team to get better.
“Our schedule isn’t soft, and we did that on purpose; if we’re going to improve we’re going to have to challenge ourselves every day,” Johnson said.
Matsuoka agreed with his coach and wants the team, and Division III basketball in general, to get the credit they deserve.
“Everyone thinks that Division III is a joke, [but] it’s not,” Matsuoka said. “We’re taking on some real tough competition in teams like Whitman and Whitworth, who both have tournament experience. It’s going to be tough, but we have the depth, speed and skills as a team to win.”
Sanchez emphasized that the team is determined to do well this year and bring recognition to UCSC’s basketball program overall.
“This isn’t an intramural team — no offense to them,” he said. “This is a team that is serious about doing well this year, and is serious about bringing success to UC Santa Cruz.”