2016-17 COC men’s hoops preview

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After playing in the Jonathan Wallace Memorial tournament earlier this season, College of the Canyons men’s basketball coach Howard Fisher took his team to see a NCAA Division 2 game between San Francisco State and Academy of Art University.

His reasoning was partly to see alumni Victor Nwaba and Coley Apsay play, and partly to teach a lesson.

“I think the proximity to the court that our guys were sitting (made them realize) that Division 2 basketball is a lot more competitive, a lot more physical and quick,” said Fisher. “It gave them a better idea of what it’s like to compete at a four-year level, and most of them have those aspirations.”

It was an effective way to energize a program that finished last season with a dismal 5-21 overall record and not a single win in Western State Conference, South Division play.

This year, the optimistic squad will have a whole new look.

“It’s an entirely different team,” Fisher said. “For most of January, February in conference, we only dressed seven or maybe eight players (because of injuries). So this year, I think we’re in better physical shape to stay healthy.”

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Alex Sanchez is a returner who managed to stay healthy for last season. His experience throughout the tumultuous time instilled in him a new sense of grit and determination.

“I know how it feels to lose every game in conference and not do very well as a team,” the guard said. “I’m making sure that I get the message out to the guys who came in that we have to work together, that it’s not an easy process and no team is going to lay down for you.”

Alongside Sanchez, Jason Horosny returns this year as a redshirt freshman after suffering multiple stress fractures on both sides of his spine last year. He only played in three games.

In five games this year, the forward has shot 51 percent from the floor, good for an average of 16.2 points. He creates options across the floor and has a great basketball IQ, according to Fisher. And his back isn’t bothering him at all.

“He can stretch out the floor for us, and he’s someone we can trust with the ball to make the right decisions because we’ll always have him trailing our one man, so he can always be an outlet,” Sanchez said.

College of the Canyons Alex Sanchez, a Valencia High graduate, is a key returner for a Cougars team looking to rebound from last season’s results. Photo courtesy Jesse Munoz/COC Sports Information
College of the Canyons Alex Sanchez, a Valencia High graduate, is a key returner for a Cougars team looking to rebound from last season’s results. Photo courtesy Jesse Munoz/COC Sports Information

Horosny is one of three former Granada Hills Charter players on the roster. The other two are freshmen Jacob Lilley and Michael Kalu, both guards.

“We definitely have chemistry,” Horosny said. “When I’m on the court with them, I definitely feel like I know what they’re going to do or I can anticipate and we have an unspoken connection.”

Kalu, who came to the Cougars after not seeing any playing time with Cal State Northridge last season, has had a smooth transition and cites playing with former teammates as a catalyst.

He’s a well-rounded player, but particularly adds to the team’s shooting abilities, boasting a team-high 18.8 points per game so far this season. He’s also bought into the team’s three-part theme of communication, effort and execution.

“If we do what coaches tell us to do in terms of defense and offense, then we can compete with any team,” he said. “We need to add pressure and then do our job on offense. We have a great offense that can break down any zone press or any man press, and we can score easily.”

Although the Cougars are 2-3 after five games, the team is eager to see where its work ethic takes it in the remainder of the season.

“We’re going to take every game one by one,” Kalu said. “Every game is different, every team plays different. I’m excited to get to conference, and that’s going to be an exciting time for us. Eight games will determine whether we go to playoffs and move on.”

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