The Modesto Junior College Pirates returned to respectability last season. Can they take another step in 2012-13?
"We've worked hard to get the program back on track," coach Paul Brogan said. "I'd like to see us get better."
MJC begins the season in Mendocino College's Ed Boyle Invitational today at 4 p.m. against Siskiyous. Job 1 is keeping the arrow pointing upward.
Attendance improved last winter for a good reason: The Pirates were worth watching. They won a tournament for the first time in five years (at Cosumnes River), reached the finals of their own MJC Invitational and went .500 in the rugged Big 8 Conference.
The result: A winning record (18-12) and a berth in the Northern California Playoffs. Both were firsts since 2007.
To continue the trend, Modesto must replace the steady 6-foot-3 guard Austin Keaton and his 17 points per game. Toward that end, the Pirates will rely on the talented 6-foot-7 forward Tashawn Mabry.
Mabry, who broke Phil Ford's career scoring record at Rocky Mount (N.C.) High, came to MJC with fanfare. But in only his seventh game in 2010, he suffered a ruptured Achilles tendon, a freakish non-contact injury during the MJC tournament.
Not only was Mabry lost for the rest of the season, he also lost a year of eligibility. The rehab wasn't easy, but the fate of this year's team largely will depend on his comeback.
"He's not as explosive, but I think he's a better player overall," Brogan said. "He's improved his skills tremendously. I think he can go inside and outside and create matchup problems."
Another solid prospect is 6-5 rebounder Brenden Evans, who took the scenic route to Modesto. The Sonora High graduate spent one season at Cabrillo College before his Mormon mission was cut short due to illness in Mexico City. Evans will bring rebounding and athleticism to the MJC lineup.
"He's a beast, and he can hit the 3," Brogan said. "He knows where he earns his money (underneath the glass)."
Modesto also will need progress from returning sophomore Jerrod Patton, a 6-7 forward who's worked hard in the weight room.
In the backcourt, sophomores Mike Hill and Ricky Inderbitzin will break in freshmen Alex Rivera and Kyle Seever.
A potential plus is the personal bouncebacks by Mabry and Evans, which could enhance team chemistry.
"Seeing what they've done makes the kids appreciate what they have. They realize this is an opportunity for them," Brogan said. "If this team can figure out how good it can be, it can be a great year for us."
NOTES T.J. Walker, the former Modesto High and Pacific star, has replaced Chris Teevan as assistant coach. Teevan is the new varsity coach at Weston Ranch High. ... Keaton has continued his career at Culver-Stockton in Canton, Mo. ... Guard Matt Ratto has transferred to Cal State Bakersfield. ... Returning to the roster this year is guard Billy Young, a North Carolina product who played for MJC in 2011. ... Plans are under way for the 75th MJC Invitational, one of the city's signature sports events. The five-day 16-team tournament will be held Dec. 4-8.
Bee staff writer Ron Agostini can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2302.
TODAY: At Mendocino Tournament, 4 p.m., vs. Siskiyous
Modesto JC Men'sBasketball At a Glance
COACH: Paul Brogan (12th)
LAST YEAR: 18-12 overall, 7-7 in Big 8
KEY PLAYERS LOST: Austin Keaton, Matt Ratto, Julius Brazzel, Desi Barmore
KEY RETURNING PLAYERS: Mike Hill, Tashawn Mabry, Jerrod Patton
KEY NEWCOMERS: Brenden Evans, Alex Rivera, Kyle Seever, Shaquille Hewitt
OUTLOOK: Continuing their momentum after first winning season since 2008 is the Pirates' goal this season. They'll miss Keaton's across-the-board production, but Mabry could cover that loss if he returns to form. His ruptured Achilles tendon injury in 2010 was a major setback for the program.