Basketball at Ventura College hasn't been the same since Phil Mathews stepped into the gymnasium in 1985 and led the Pirates to their first Western State Conference title in 17 years.
Oh, the ball still bounces the same. It's just that it finds the basket more often when Mathews is storming the sidelines.
Ventura has won four Northern Division championships, two Western State Conference titles and the 1986-87 state championship in Mathews' four years. The team has averaged 25 wins a season and won 82% of its conference games. Division I players such as Cedric Ceballos (Cal State Fullerton) and Pookey Wigington (Seton Hall) have worn Pirate uniforms.
Therefore high expectations float around Telegraph Road this time of year. The Pirates open their season Friday night when they play host to San Bernardino at 7:30.
"It's not only my expectations, but those of the institution and community," said Mathews, who can earn his 100th Ventura win Friday. "We all have a lot of expectations and want to win."
Ventura likely won't disappoint if it can overcome the inexperience of nine freshmen on a 14-player roster.
"We'll be young, but I think we'll be pretty good," said Mathews, 37, who has a 99-30 overall record. "We're deep, quick, and we can do some things."
That isn't what the rest of the conference wants to hear. Ventura was 28-6 last year and won the Northern Division title. Two starters return, and that duo of 6-foot-7 forward Leo Parker and 6-5 forward Reggie Betton averaged 17.2 and 16.8 points, respectively.
Terrance Lam, a 5-10 sophomore, has the edge for the starting spot at point guard. Ventura High's Chris Hantgin, a 6-4 sophomore who played at Gonzaga University in Spokane, Wash., last season, will start at off-guard. Lester Neal, a 6-6, 220-pound freshman from Chicago, Ill., will start at center.
Should those five stumble, Mathews can find players such as Jerry Dalton and former Channel Islands High star Kevin Venable on his bench. Venable, a 6-5 sophomore forward, was averaging 22 points and 13 rebounds when he blew out a knee early in the 1986-87 season, losing more than two years to rehabilitation. Dalton, a 6-1 freshman, is fighting with Lam for the point-guard position.
Most of the conference's coaches are pointing at Ventura, but the Pirates aren't the only talented team.
"The league is very, very strong," Moorpark Coach Al Nordquist said. "(West L. A. Coach Charles Sands) was telling me he has one of the best teams he's ever had, but will probably finish in the middle or bottom of the league."
Oxnard Coach Remy McCarthy said Ventura and Glendale are the teams to beat. "Then you can just throw all of us in there and it will be close."
Oxnard is coming off a 20-12 season and is expected to be a contender, but the Condors have lost Andy Beltowski and Gary Hunter to season-ending injuries.
Beltowski, a 6-5 forward who averaged nine points and eight rebounds as a starter last year, injured his back and left McCarthy with a large void in the paint.
"It is a devastating blow," McCarthy said. "There is no way to measure his value to this team."
Hunter, a 6-3 redshirt freshman who averaged 28 points a game and was Freeway League Player of the Year at Buena Park High, joined Beltowski in the trainer's room when he ruptured an Achilles' tendon.
That puts even more burden on Randy Carter--the lone returning starter--when Oxnard opens against Allan Hancock at 7:30 Saturday night. Carter, a 6-4 forward, averaged 17 points and nine rebounds last year and was all-conference.
Joe Daughrity (6-1) and Santa Clara High's Art Santana (6-1) may start at the guard positions. Hueneme High's Jesse May (6-1), Channel Islands High's Omar Otis (6-5), and Gerry Coleman (6-5) are battling for starting positions.
"It's all about adjusting, and we need some big-league adjusting," McCarthy said.
Moorpark, meanwhile, is secure with four returning starters from last year's 16-15 team.
The Raiders begin their season Nov. 10 with a first-round game at the Mt. San Antonio College Tipoff Tournament against Chaffey.
Moorpark's leading returning rebounder, 6-6 forward Greg Taylor, and three double-figure scorers return. Bruce Watson, a 6-6 forward from Thousand Oaks, averaged 11.6 points a game; Roger Thomas, an all-conference guard, led the team with an 11.7 average; and Sean Young averaged 10.
Sam Crawford, a 5-10 freshman, will start at point guard and Jerry Markray, a 6-8 sophomore, returns to Moorpark after a one-year stint at San Diego State.