FRESNO — Grossmont College has one big advantage going into today's opening round of the California Community College Tournament--momentum.
Grossmont has won 15 straight games since Dec. 28, so, not surprisingly, the Griffins (24-7) are optimistic as they prepare for this morning's first-round game against Sacramento City (24-8) at 9.
"The kids believe they have a chance, and when your team believes you have a chance to win it all, then you do," fourth-year Coach Jerry Wilkerson said. "I do think, at this point, we can beat anybody."
At the start of the season, Wilkerson was not talking that way. The Griffins were only 9-7 after their first 16 games and were not given much of a chance to beat out Imperial Valley for the Pacific Coast Conference title.
But once conference play got under way, Grossmont got hot. In their conference opener, the Griffins beat Imperial Valley, 73-68, and they were on their way to earning the first State Tournament berth in the school's 23-year history. Grossmont has been playing so well that even on what Wilkerson has considered off-nights, the Griffins have sometimes won by as many as 20 points.
Wilkerson says that there were two reasons for Grossmont's sluggish start: the fact that four of his starters were newcomers and that the Griffins played a tough early schedule.
"Four new starters means that a lot of people have to get used to new roles and a new program," he said. "And while they were trying to learn, we were playing teams like Fullerton, Cerritos, El Camino, Saddleback and Cypress."
The key player in Grossmont's surge has been 6-foot 2-inch guard Rodney Tention, who is averaging 15.8 points, 8.1 assists and 3 steals per game. Tention not only runs the Griffin offense, but he is also called upon to shoot often.
"Rodney was one of our new players, and it took him some time to learn what we wanted him to do," Wilkerson said. "We want him to handle the ball and score, and since conference started, he's done that."
Other top players for the Griffins are 5-8 guard Martell Johnson (a transfer from the Air Force Academy), who is averaging 17 points and 7.9 assists per game, 6-8 center Juan Espinoza, who is averaging 18.2 points and 8 rebounds, and 6-5 forward Tyrone Muldrow, who is averaging 13.2 points and 8.1 rebounds.
State Tournament Notes
Grossmont is the only San Diego-area school in the State Tournament. . . . In other first-round games today, San Jose City (25-7) vs. College of the Canyons (22-6) at 10:45 a.m., Glendale (20-11) vs. Butte (25-3) at 12:30 p.m., Ohlone (20-10) vs. El Camino (29-1) at 2:15 p.m., Long Beach City (28-6) vs. City College of San Francisco (25-4) at 4 p.m., Skyline (26-2) vs. Taft (29-5) at 6 p.m., Fresno City (26-9) vs. Mt. San Antonio (27-4) at 7:45 p.m. and Riverside City (24-9) vs. San Joaquin Delta (26-4) at 9:30 p.m. . . . El Camino is the top-seeded team from the Southern California bracket, while defending champion San Joaquin Delta is the top-seeded team from the Northern California bracket. . . . The second round of the tournament will be Saturday, the semifinals Sunday night and the championship game Monday night.