Every sports team goes through growing pains, as seen by the Bay Area’s own Golden State Warriors. During their 2011-2012 season, the Warriors made the instrumental trade of Monta Ellis for Andrew Bogut, a move that would pave the road to success for the team in the years to come.
The infamous trade was not only a shift in playing style, but more importantly a change in chemistry —the key component for any team to be successful on and off the court.
This is a lesson SF State’s men’s basketball head coach Paul Trevor learned that same season.
Trevor was in his second year of coaching the men’s basketball team when he lost his five strongest players from the prior season. The players were replaced by younger inexperienced players, who were new to SF State and to each other.
“They didn’t develop as quickly as we thought they would, so we went through the growing pains of having a lot of young guys on our team,” Trevor said. “I think that was my hardest year.”
Much like the Warriors, Trevor spent the next five years experiencing the evolution of a team.
Flash forward to the current 2016-2017 season and the Gators are currently winning 16-3, and have been making great strides SF State hasn’t seen from men’s basketball since the 90s.
Trevor said the recent success has been a result of the progress of great players and growing chemistry over the past few years.
“It’s been trying to find a group that works in the environment we have and also just trying to find the right mix of players that blend well together to be successful,” Trevor said. “This group is so special in the sense that you have a lot of guys who’ve been in the program for a long time.”
Trevor said he felt great potential in the team, who, in December, made their first appearance on the National Association of Basketball Coaches list for the first time in more than 20 years. He realized the team’s chemistry was strong early in the season.
“We knew we had a good group of guys that were all young, we won 16 games, they were kind of taking over ownership of the team,” Trevor said. “We felt like it could be a pretty good group.”
Senior AJ Kahlon said the team’s energy was apparent during the pre-season open gym in September, where his teammates emerged and played against each other with the same aggression they have routinely display.
“Everything we were doing, you could just tell we were hungry,” Kahlon said. “For us to be that competitive and so ready to play, it just showed our attitude toward the season.”
It wasn’t until the Gators played Western Oregon University in November that they realized how truly special their team was. They went into triple overtime and overpowered Western Oregon with a final score of 99-93.
“You’re in overtime, it’s the most stressful situation and they seemed to appear that everything was going to work out,” Trevor said. “I think that’s when I knew we had something special.”
Kahlon said the game was the defining moment of the season.
“We stole that game from them,” Kahlon said. “We took a game that we had no business winning and I think that might have been the springboard for our season this year.”
Trevor said Kahlon’s performance this season has been a nice surprise to the coaches.
“We didn’t expect him to be so good, he really developed into such a stud,” Trevor said. “He’s kind of become the cornerstone of our defense.”
Trevor said senior guard Nick Calcaterra has also shown growth within his last four years on the team.
“He’s really grown into a nice role with this team,” Trevor said. “He works so hard, he does all the dirty stuff out there.”
Although several seasoned players still remain on the team, Trevor said the success of the team as a whole can also be linked to their perfect mixture of seasoned seniors as well as talented younger players.
With players like Warren Jackson, Ryne Williams and Chiefy Ugbaja alongside freshman Jase Wickliffe and Jash Kahlon, the Gator’s lineup is stacked to continue the momentum of this season and hopefully seasons to come.
“The cabinet is not bare by any means,” Trevor said. “We wanted to create that depth where it won’t just run dry the next year.”
Kahlon said he hopes to be an inspiration and motivation for the younger players who will carry on the Gator legacy in the future. He said he owes his game to the seniors that came before him.
“They’re part of the team this year too, really,” Kahlon said. “I wouldn’t be the player I am or the leader I am without having played with them first.”
Calcaterra said he looked up to guard Nefi Perdomo when he was a freshman. The senior had shown him the ropes and he hoped to do the same for his teammates.
Whether freshman or senior, moving forward in the season, Trevor said the team will need to come together to reach their goals of becoming CCA champions, winning a conference tournament and hopefully making it to the NCAA tournament.
Trevor said the team has been incredibly strong within their defense, but they need to work on keeping a consistent energy throughout the game.
Two of the only three losses suffered by the Gators, out of 16 games so far, have been against rival teams California State University, Chico, and Division II number 11 ranked University of California, San Diego.
“They are tough, they are physical, they also have a lot of guys who have been in the conference for a long time,” Trevor said.
With the Gators constant success, the team says the growing support for the team has helped them push forward.
“We’ve been having great crowds,” Calcaterra said. “Students, alumni, everyone has been coming out and supporting and it just gives us life.”
Among the alumni rooting for Gator success is Calcaterra’s predecessor, Perdomo.
“I think it’s awesome how good they are doing and to be ranked is something I didn’t accomplish,” alumni Perdomo said. “I really tip my hat off to the guys.”
Though Trevor said the team’s end goal of making NCAA Championships is within reach, the team is sticking by their motto and taking it “one game at a time.”
The Gators will face off against the physically strong Stanislaus State University during Spirit Night on Friday at 7:30 p.m., and will return Saturday at 7:30 p.m. to host rivals Chico State.
Kahlon said that although the back-to-back games with such strong competitors will be difficult, he is not worried because Chico will be recovering from a game with Sonoma State University as well.
“Our conference is a bloodbath, anybody can beat anybody on any given night,” Kahlon said.
One thing is for sure, much like the progression of the Warriors, the Gators’ continuous growth and success has been entertaining to watch and has given hope to Gator fans.
“I really hope that they win it all , I would love to see that,” Perdomo said.