SONORA -- It is most unfair to compare today's Columbia College Claim Jumpers to the Columbia team that swept to a state title 20 seasons ago.
The programs occupy different places. Back then, Columbia was an ambitious, high-flying team that merged players from across the nation with solid local talent.
The Claim Jumpers nearly won a state title in 1988 and continued to contend until they broke through in 1993 with an upset victory over Ventura.
"What (coach) Denny Aye accomplished was incredible and magical," Columbia's current coach, Nate Rien, said. "To win in such a small community was an incredible achievement."
Two decades later, Columbia rotates in a lower orbit.
The red 1994 championship banner still hangs on the northern wall of Oak Pavilion. The 2012 Claim Jumpers weren't yet born when Columbia shook the state hoops world with their memorable victory at USF's Memorial Gym.
Rien, entering his 10th season as coach, stewards a program that primarily relies on homegrown players. Only two on the current roster come from out of state.
"The school mission statement stresses that we develop local kids into good human beings," Rien said. "We're told to play local players who won't do anything to get us in trouble. And that they will learn to compete and play hard."
No one on campus or in Tuolumne County clamors for a return of the good old days. Today's Claim Jumpers often compete hard and fall short in the demanding Central Valley Conference, where defending state champion Fresno the Rams also won it all in 2005 and '07 reigns.
Columbia went 4-10 in the CVC last year behind All-CVC guard Keith Robinson and wing Alston Friday. Both have moved on Robinson to Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia; and Friday to William Jessup.
This year's smaller and, arguably, quicker team turned in a credible 1-2 showing at last week's season-opening Las Positas tournament in Livermore. The Claim Jumpers defeated Butte thanks to 29 points by Ashton Richardson lost to Las Positas in overtime and shot poorly in a closing loss to Siskiyous.
New point guard Demetrius Muses guides a lineup featuring 6-foot-2 power forwards Thomas and Ashton Richardson (no relation), and sophomore Jalen Bourbon and Bret Harte graduate Danny Radford at the wings. Ashton Richardson made the All-CVC freshman team last season.
Travis Arenas, a 6-4 Summerville product, also could make a major contribution.
"We just need to get better," Rien said. "We're a little up-tempo, which is fine. "We easily could have won two games in our first tournament."
THE COLUMBIA FILE
Coach: Nate Rien (10th)
Last year: 10-15, 4-8 in CVC
Key players lost: Keith Robinson, Alston Friday
Key returning players: Ashton Richardson, Thomas Richardson, Jalen Bourbon, Matt Iles
Key new players: Danny Radford, Travis Arenas, Demetrius Muses
Outlook: The lack of a post presence will hurt the Claim Jumpers in the tough Central Valley Conference. They must rely on teamwork to get a lead, spread the court and hit free throws. Muses' impact at point guard will be a barometer.