Corsairs defend against Sacramento City College in the first round of the CCCAA State Playoffs in front of sold-out home crowd. | Photo by Deion Alston

Dream Season for Corsairs Continues

College of the Redwoods men's basketball team charges into the playoffs
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College of the Redwoods men’s basketball team charges into the playoffs

With a 75-56 win over Sacramento City College Feb. 27, the College of the Redwoods men’s basketball team advanced to the second round of the California Community College Athletic Association state playoffs. The win put the Corsairs at 22-5 on the season, a complete turnaround from last year’s 0-26 record.

First-year Head Coach Ryan Bisio set a plan into motion to turn the program around far before he got the job with the Corsairs. The plan was simple: build a team with high-quality local talent to showcase to the community. The plan worked immediately.

The Corsairs are all graduates from local high schools like Fortuna, Arcata and McKinleyville, with the team composed of all freshman except for two sophomores.

“I’ve known these kids for years,” Bisio said. “Last year I didn’t coach, so I got to watch all of them in high school and was able to build personal relationships with them. The unity was powerful and it made entrusting this young team easy.”

This local talent dominated the Golden Valley Conference as the Corsairs, led by Arcata alumnus and conference MVP Thomas Nelson, were crowned champions.

“Whenever we needed a bucket throughout the year we would go to Thomas,” Bisio said. “He scores in spurts from all three levels. The way he scores devastates our opponents and our team feeds off of him.”

Nelson, who is in his sophomore year, has been one of the best players in the CCCAA this year, as he was named first-team All-State as well. He averaged 20 points and eight rebounds per game this year, and he scored over 25 in eight games.

“I wanted to win conference just like in high school, and I knew I could have success. But I didn’t know I would be All-State in the process. I didn’t even know they had All-State teams in junior college until I made the first team.”

Thomas Nelson

“The coaching staff has your back in every situation and I have great teammates,” Nelson said. “It’s day and night from last year. We communicate and connect at a very high level and we work very well together.”

The Arcata High School graduate had high season goals this year, and winning a conference championship was one of them.

“I wanted to win conference just like in high school, and I knew I could have success,” Nelson said. “But I didn’t know I would be All-State in the process. I didn’t even know they had All-State teams in junior college until I made the first team.”

With Nelson leading the way, the Corsairs had a multitude of successes this year. Four other players were honored, with Drew Gillette, Zac Claus and Donald Willis making first-team honors and Bradley Willis earning an honorable mention.

Gillette chipped in 17 points while shooting 41% from the arc. Freshman marksman Isaac Puzz added 9 points while shooting a team high 44% from the three.

While Puzz and Gillette were lighting it up from behind the arc, Claus took the role of primary ball handler with an average of 10 points, six assists and five rebounds per game.

The Willis twins were the all-around guys. They combined for 22 points, 11 rebounds and 6 assists per game while leading the Corsairs defensively in steals and charges taken.

Coach Bisio’s plan has come into fruition as CR is currently ranked 16 in the state and has advanced in the CCCAA Northern California state playoffs. With playoffs intensifying the competition, Bisio knows his team must play their best game now.

“We need to tighten up on defense,” Bisio said. “We’re going to see some good teams in the playoffs so we need to have a high sense of urgency. We’ve been playing good so we have to do what we’ve been doing—just can’t get complacent.”

The Corsairs defeated Sacramento City in the first round of the playoffs, but the road only gets rougher. College of the Redwoods will be traveling to play against the nation’s number one ranked team, San Francisco City College. Dubbed huge underdogs, the Corsairs have a huge challenge at hand, but with the success they’ve had this year, nothing looks impossible.

You can livestream the game through the CR men’s basketball Facebook page or the CCCAA Network on YouTube. The game will start at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, March 7.

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