Santa Monica College has a long tradition of success, and hopes to challenge the usual WSC-South powers Citrus and Bakersfield for the division championship in 2009-10. championship in 2009-10. The Corsairs have a young team, and feature one of the top players in the state, Bryant Crowder, as well as a handful of good prospects, particularly in the frontcourt.
The Corsairs have experienced plenty of success through the years, with 9 conference titles dating back as far as 1935. But the last of those titles came in 1999, and the past half-dozen years have been rather lean since the retirement of longtime coach John McMullen following the 2002-03 season.
Coach Jerome Jenkins came to SMC in September last year after 8 years as Head Coach at Sacramento State. Joe Cascio, who is a big part of the LA Rockfish club program, is the Associate Head Coach, and Julio Lopez, a longtime assistant at West LA who also works with the LA Lakers and D-Fenders, joins the staff this season.
They invited me to a recent practice at SMC. Coach Jenkins practice featured plenty of structure and order, with an emphasis on teaching and execution. The drills focused on halfcourt sets, offensive and defensive, with players constantly being subbed into the action. Each player is expected pay attention at all times and to know what to do when he gets on the court.
And when the teams focus faltered, Coach Jenkins adjourned practice early, sending the squad outside to the track for some running. Clearly, the Corsairs will play with plenty of focus and intensity this season. Or else they will incur Coach Jenkins wrath, in which case they might be ready to compete in the LA Marathon next spring.
Nonetheless, there is a good bit of talent on this team. Leading the way is the 6-10 Crowder, who made a huge impression in the Say No Classic this past summer. Sophomore guard Rodney Hudson has drawn D-1 interest, and Charlie Oriel was one of the better players at Saddleback in 2007-08. There are veterans at point guard in sophomores Oriel, Eric Bell (last years starter) and Avery Martin, who played at SMC in 2007-08. The team also features several talented forwards in Tyrell Chandler, DeShawn Stephens and Matt Sinclair, as well as a couple of intriguing prospects in 5-9 guard Justin Speedy Barnwell and 6-7 wing Solomon Hainna.
Maturity and focus will likely be key factors in SMCs success this season. Even talented but unfocused teams will struggle in the WSC-South where heavyweights Citrus and Bakersfield figure to make good playoff runs, and the likes of LA Valley, Glendale and Canyons are well-coached and difficult to play against.
But this is the most talented Corsair team since at least 2003 when the McMullen era ended with a surprise trip the State Tournament, and it could be the start of a new era in Santa Monica.
Heres a closer look at some of the top players on this years team:
Bryant Crowder, 6-10, Ctr, frosh. Can finish, rebound and block shots, and should make a huge impact this season. Think Amare Stoudemire in terms of style. Played in the Say No Classic this summer and averaged 19 points and 12 rebounds in the 4 games I saw (going up against plenty of D-1 guys including some from the likes of UCLA and USC), helping his team to the league semifinals. Plays with a purpose and understands the game. With his combination of height, athleticism and skill hes among the most talented players in the California JC ranks.
Rodney Hudson, 6-3, SG, soph. Top Corsair returnee averaged 13.5 points per game last year and has drawn interest from several D-1 programs. Excellent athlete, quick on the perimeter and strong when he gets in traffic. Shot under 40% last year so he could improve shooting or at least shot selection. Strong defender and intense competitor.
DeShawn Stephens, 6-8, PF/SF, frosh. Smooth forward has the easy agility of an elite athlete. Had facial injury (hes being fitted for a mask) so his participation in practice was limited, but he has the look of a true prospect.
Tyrell Chandler, 6-7, PF/C, frosh. Powerful post player from Mississippi Elite Prep School. Strength inside on the boards, can finish inside and can even step out and hit the jumper.
Charlie Oriel, 6-0, PG/SG, soph. Played at Saddleback in 2007-08. Had one of his better games when I saw him that season vs. Long Beach (16 pts, 5 rebs, 3 asts, 4 stls). High basketball IQ and can play either guard position.
Matt Sinclair, 6-6, PF, frosh. Athletic forward from Joel John HS started alongside the likes of Jordan Hamilton (Texas), Omari Johnson (Oregon State) and Steven Bennett (Citrus/Chaminade) while an underclassman at Dorsey.
Solomon Hainna, 6-7, SF, frosh. Intriguing prospect. Lanky lefty, converting from the inside to the wing. Its a work in progress, but he has the athletic ability and just needs to refine the shooting and open-court decision-making skills and maintain focus.
Eric Bell, 6-0, PG, soph. Last years starting PG is solid, pass-first floor leader with a strong handle. Averaged 8.2 pts and 2.6 asts per game last season.
Justin Speedy Barnwell, 5-9, PG/SG, frosh. The hit of the practice, in my estimation. He dunked in the lay-up line, he blocked a shot in the halfcourt scrimmage...hes 5-9! Incredible hops, a lot of fun to watch. Reminds me of Sinclair's old teammate, Bennett.
Santa Monica Roster:
Head Coach: Jerome Jenkins (2nd year)
Associate Head Coach: Joe Cascio
Assistant Coach: Julio Lopez
Player Position Height Year From
Justin Speedy Barnwell PG/SG 5-9 FR LA (Westchester)
Eric Bell 6-0 PG SO LA (El Camino Real)
Lonnie Biggs 6-4 - SF FR LA (Dorsey)
Alex Brooks SG 6-0 FR LA (University)
Tyrell Chandler 6-7 PF/C FR Mississippi Elite Prep
Bryant Crowder Ctr 6-10 FR New York
Rue Critchfield SG/SF 6-4 FR San Francisco
Aaron Fitts 6-3 - SF/PF FR LA (Palisades)
Solomon Hainna 6-7 - SF FR LA (Palisades)
Rodney Hudson SG 6-3 SO LA (Jordan)
Lee Lark SG 5-10 FR LA (Dorsey)
Avery Martin PG 5-9 SO LA (Fremont)
Pat McCauly 6-8 - C/PF FR Michigan
Kris Mehdipour SG/SF SO LA (Palisades)
Alex Messager 6-6 - Ctr SO France
Charlie Oriel PG/SG 6-0 SO Culver City
Matt Sinclair 6-6 - PF FR LA (Joel John)
DeShawn Stephens 6-8 - PF/SF FR Chatsworth
Johnell Young SG/SF 6-2 FR New York