Basketball season tips off

Sophomore guard, Jonathan Ileleji stands with the ball during a recent game at the Basil H. Peterson Gym. Ileleji is one of the four sophomores on the team this season.

Looking to put last year’s season (3-21) behind it, a banged up Pirates men’s basketball team returns as it hopes to turn some heads.

The team, which is stuck in a rebuilding phase, will be forced to play catch-up this year with only two players returning from last season, and most of the team's expected starting lineup will begin the season on injured reserve.

Head coach Steve Spencer returns for his 18th season in charge, and his veteran expertise will be called upon in order to get the team ready for Moorpark College on Thursday at 6 p.m.

With this season being one where off the court wins will stand out more than victories on the court, look toward the team to learn its identity throughout the year.

One of the hardest injuries to swallow for the team occurred during its opening practices when the team's top player went down for the year.

The team's inexperience is certainly there even though it will only field three true freshmen. Many of the team’s players are gray-shirting, freshman students who postpone enrollment until the second semester of the year.

Of the 20 athletes on the team, only four of them are returning from last year’s squad.

Throughout the season teaching proper work ethic will be one of Spencer’s primary goals.

“With all the computer technology, and the online classes, and again the fast track there’s a shortcut,” Spencer said.

His goal for this year is for his players to avoid taking those shortcuts and actually put time into the athlete’s work.

“Sports is something where there’s no shortcut you have to put the reps in, and then do them again and do it better,” Spencer said.

Recruiting has been one of the toughest aspects for the Pirates basketball program, as players that aren’t local struggle to afford housing in a market that continues to only go higher. Since Orange Coast College is a community college, the school can’t offer scholarship money like a four-year university can.  

When the team reached the California Community College Athletic Association State Quarterfinals in 2017, the achievement was dubbed similar to Halley’s Comet, as the program built a team full of players they normally struggled to recruit.

“Six of those guys were evicted during the last six months from their apartment complex,” Spencer said.

Hopeful for the season ahead, Spencer believes that the team will show up this year, and surprise its opponents come midseason.

The Pirates opened its season over the weekend in the San Diego City College Tournament where the team went 1-2, the lone win against Barstow Community College.

Sophomore guard, Jonathan Ileleji was the standout for the Pirates during the tournament, averaging a respectable 15.3 points, 1.7 assists and 2.7 rebounds through the team’s first three games.

With his 15.9 points per game average last season, Ileleji looks to repeat as the lead scorer for the team.

In his eyes, success will not be judged by how many wins the team garners, but rather how far they come.

“I want to coach them to where they can be, and that’s what we’re trying to do, I just believe in all of us that there’s more to give,” Spencer said. “That’s success to me.”

With the competitive nature of collegiate sports, Spencer hopes to help his athletes un-tap their potentials on the court.

“Some more people realize what’s inside of them, and what they have to give,” Spencer said.

If the Pirates are putting in the effort, the team can find the success Spencer believes the team is capable of. The Pirates non-conference season continues Thursday in the Basil H. Peterson Gym as the team takes on Moorpark College at 6 p.m.

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