Photo by Bruce Jacobsen
LANCASTER – How do you mimic the Elite Eight season that the Marauder men's basketball team endured only a year ago?
Well if you ask returner D'Mauria Jones, the answer is simple.
"I'm trying to make history and get a championship here," said Jones, a legit scoring machine. "It's my last year here and I have to do my best. I'm ready to rock and roll."
That is a good possibility as the Marauders, fresh off its magical season, enter the 2017-2018 season ranked No. 12 in the state and No. 7 in Southern California.
"We're going to be really good. We just have to stay together and play team basketball," Jones said. "We're pretty young, but we're going to get it done. We all have the same goal in mind."
Jones and Osi Nwachukwu are the top returners for the Marauders. Jones, who started in about half the team's games last season averaged 11.3 points per game, three rebounds and 1.5 steals. Jones will be looked upon as one of the team's go-to players and top scorers. Jones scored 20 or more points four times last season.
Nwachukwu played a pivotal role off the bench last year for AVC by averaging eight points per game and five rebounds. Nwachukwu scored in double figures 11 times last season. He was the spark off the bench that played with high energy and provided much needed depth. AVC head coach John Taylor said Jones and Nwachukwu are two of the best players in the state.
"I think we have all the pieces we need right now. I'm sure we're going to go far. Me and Dee (Jones) are understanding our leadership roles. I think we have way better chemistry than last year," Nwachukwu said. "Everybody knows their roles. If we all do (what we're capable of) we can win conference. I'm just ready to get going. I'm so juiced."
Joining Nwachukwu and Jones in the starting lineup will be Greg Floyd, Jr. The 6-10 freshman from Las Vegas is a bona fide player with tremendous shooting range. Floyd, Jr., who was a four-star recruit by ESPN, had scholarship offer from at least 25 Div. 1 programs, including Arizona, Purdue, Virginia, USC and last year's Final Four team, Oregon.
Taylor said, "he can really shoot it," much like last year's sharpshooter Cory Dollarhide, who took his talents to Lewis and Clark in Idaho. Floyd, Jr. will provide the Marauders with additional scoring alongside Nwachukwu and Jones and will stretch the floor will his shooting ability and will cause major matchup problems for those trying to guard him.
AVC lost two good point guards in Charles Hall and Reggie Byers, however, the Marauders added two freshman point guards in Julian Payton and Surako Follings. Payton is a Div. 1 prospect and played high school basketball for perennial powerhouse, Las-Vegas-Bishop Gorman. Follings led his high school team in Oakland, Fremont High School, to 21 wins last season.
"I'm excited. We have a lot of unknown quantities, but I think our guys are really good. We have three wing guys that can really play," Taylor said of Jones, Nwachukwu and Floyd, Jr. "Our roles are a little more defined (than last year). Our starters might be among the best in the state. But that's why you play the game. I wouldn't have bet a dollar that last year's team would have lost 11 games. I still feel like we could use two more months of practice, but the guys are ready to go."
Another newcomer that will help the Marauders this season is James Kemp, who Taylor raves about and says is one of the best passing big men he has ever seen. Kemp replaces Antone Warren, who graduated and made himself eligible in last year's NBA draft but was not selected.
One concern for Taylor is AVC's bench this year. The Marauders return big man Jesse Burns, who played sparingly early in the season but provided much depth when Warren was plagued with foul trouble in several games.
Defensive specialist Myles Wise also returns this season. Wise was matched up against Citrus' Jeremy Smith, who gave the Marauders fits in three games last season.
Newcomers Gabe Solache, a transfer from College of the Desert who averaged more than 13 points per game while playing for the Roadrunners, will help in the back court. Angelo Solis will provide rebounding and toughness for AVC. He averaged 11 points and eight rebounds in high school. Additionally, Wesley DeJesus is a 6-4 shooting guard from Puerto Rico, who will also provide depth.
AVC opens its season at the Ventura Tournament on Thursday at 1pm against Pasadena City College with a game looming against No. 11 Riverside City College, should both teams advance.
The game will be broadcast live on youtube at https://youtu.be/ehTCtkOXtFM
"I'm ready," said Jones with conviction.