The Columbia College basketball team is poised for a playoff run if they can hold onto their competitive second-place position in the Central Valley Conference, said Assistant Coach Rick Francis.
But with five games remaining in conference play, the Claim Jumpers must finish the games they are expected to win, and hopefully pull off an upset against the undefeated league leader, Fresno City College.
“These guys, they really get along. It’s a very unselfish group of players that are very athletic, so they have that inner grit type stuff where they're going to get down and get to it,” Francis said. “They fight, they fight, they fight and that's a real special thing we’ve got going right now.”
A defining moment of the Claim Jumpers season came on Wednesday, when the team improved its league record to 8-2 following a victory over Cerro Coso Community College at home.
Cerro Coso was up by two points with 12 seconds remaining in the game, Francis said.
Landis Spivey, a 6-foot, 5-inch freshman from Stockton, received a pass in the corner. The horn went off as the ball was sent airborne.
The basketball swished the net, sending players and fans onto the court in celebration. The Claim Jumpers won 63-62.
“That was huge. The place went nuts. We've had great community support this year, just outstanding community support,” Francis said.
The victory exemplified a recurring theme for the 2018-19 squad of never giving up, he said.
“I think the defining moment of these guys is there is no quit. We will not quit. Ten or 16 points, that's nothing in collegiate basketball. There's so many runs at this game, so if you get three threes in a row, you’re right back in there or you’re ahead.”
At practice, Francis tells the players to “never stop shooting.”
“Even if you have a bad night, just keep shooting. These guys are special. They want to learn,” he said.
Team unity was also a prime characteristic of the Claim Jumpers’ league success. The group’s friendships and teamwork — despite having transnational home roots from Florida to Northern California — would prime them for even further success in the playoffs.
“The thing is, the kids want to get better. They have the goal of wanting to play the next level,” he said. “It takes a while for them to learn how to play with each other, but it's been no problem. This is a special group of kids.”
Freshman Damian Kress, guard, and Kaden Sparks-Davis, guard, are Sonora High School alumni. The team also counts among its ranks Fort Lauderdale, Florida, players Seth Coddington, guard, and Noel Alexander, center; Kyndle Terrell-Jones, guard, from Baltimore; Jamiree Williams, guard from Lockport, Louisiana and Trey Porter, center, from Atlanta.
The team had four returning sophomores this year: Maurice Woods, guard, from San Francisco, Yosnier Cobas, forward, from Miami; Conner Reese, guard, of San Luis Obispo and Porter.
Francis described Woods as one of the team’s best outside shooters, and Cobas as “a rock.”
“Most of them live close to each other,” he said. “They go to class and they go to basketball.”
On Saturday, Columbia traveled to West Hills College Lemoore and won 91-63. They have a game against West Hills College Coalinga on Wednesday and against Merced College on Saturday. Both are away games.
Fresno City College is scheduled for Feb. 13.
“There are some games left we really need to win, he said. “We’re good in standing. The more games that you win, you get a higher seed.”
Francis and head coach Rob Hoyt have coached the team for six years.