Rolando Garcia will be the first to tell you community college sports are for the kids.
But even he admits that his Columbia Basin College men’s basketball team’s 1-23 record last season was pretty hard to go through.
Especially for a guy who was used to winning — playing basketball himself at Grandview High School, Columbia Basin College and Northwest Nazarene University — it wasn’t easy.
So now that the Hawks are 16-10 and qualified for the Northwest Athletic Association of Community Colleges basketball tournament, which begins Saturday at Toyota Center, Garcia is seeing the sunny side of life.
“More than you know,” Garcia said. “I really can’t even put it into words. Just like I told my boys, it’s never been about me. I was fortunate to play with some excellent teammates.”
And now his kids are getting to experience success. He knows when that Ah Ha! moment happened, too.
“When we were down 23 points at Big Bend in the first half back in January,” Garcia said. “We came back and won by two. All along they’ve carried themselves as if they belonged. I think that game alone, they started believing.”
Last season, Garcia at one point was down to just six players, thanks to injuries and players who didn’t make grades. He had to scour the campus looking for athletic bodies.
This year, he’s had some good talent.
“The funny thing about it is, all season long coaches come up to me and said stuff like ‘My two best players are out,’ ” Garcia said. “Really? I tease them, ‘You guys were running up the score on me last season. Don’t be coming to talk to me about your problems.”
Garcia has also gotten a couple of players back from two seasons ago in Chiawana High graduates Buddy Walters and Justin Smith.
They didn’t play last season for personal reasons, but wanted to come back this season.
And they brought some friends with them.
“I’m grateful for Buddy and Justin that they decided to come back,” Garcia said. “These gentlemen showed an interest in coming to play for me. They’re all good friends and they know each other.”
Smith said he knew the Hawks could play this season.
“Once we realized the team we had coming, with (Andrew) Reddout and (Mitch) Zapien, along with (James) Lopez,” Smith said. “Plus me, Buddy and Kyler (DeWitt) being sophomores we knew we’d be a good fit. We’ve played with or against each other a lot.”
It shows at times on the court, as the team tends to make that extra pass for the easy layup and short jumper.
“What I like best about this group of guys is no one cares who gets the credit,” Walter said. “We all enjoy just winning, having fun and playing basketball. Each teammate wants the other to excel. We believe in each other.”
Even when the Hawks went into a four-game losing skid late in the season as they tried to clinch a tournament berth. Only when they beat Walla Walla 103-90 last Saturday to end the regular season did they snap it.
“We really just got a little complacent,” Smith said. “We were in first place for a little while. We stopped having fun and turned it more into a job than it should be. We lost a couple close ones too, and we’ve also won a couple close ones, so we’re experienced and ready for any type of game.”
As long as they believe in themselves, things should work out.
“I think the biggest thing they’ve had all year, is their motto was ‘Why not us?’ and ‘We belong,’ ”Garcia said.
The Hawks definitely do. It’s been a great turnaround for the CBC men’s program.
And the Hawks reward will be getting to play in front of the hometown crowd, hopefully for a title.
“It should be exciting to play in front of our hometown crowd,” Walters said.
“It’s going to be something I’ll never forget,” Smith added.
And what advice does Garcia give the guys about this weekend?
“Right now, everybody’s record is 0-0,” he said. “We’re playing the best of best in this league. Expect to play through calls, expect to play through emotions. Play together, and play like we believe can win.”
That shouldn’t be a problem for the Hawks.