Steve Ball has not settled on a regular starting line-up for the Napa Valley College men’s basketball team, which is five games into the 2017-18 season. But Ball, who is in his 14th year as the Storm’s head coach, has identified the team’s center.
Sasha French, a 2015 Justin-Siena High School graduate and former Prolific Prep Academy player, is averaging a team-leading 11.6 points and 6.6 rebounds per game for the Storm (1-4 overall).
French played for the Hun School, a private day and boarding college prep school, in Princeton, New Jersey, during the 2015-16 season and was named first team All-Mercer County after averaging 9.5 points, 7 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game.
He transferred to Napa Valley after spending the 2016-17 season as a redshirt freshman at the University of San Francisco.
French has started each of the first five games for Napa Valley, and is also averaging 1.4 blocks and 22.2 minutes of playing time per game while shooting 84.6 percent from the free-throw line.
“He’s a hard working person,” Ball said Tuesday. “His attention to detail is great. Offensively, he runs the floor really well. He uses his left-handed jump hook very well and seals in the lane.
“He’s a lot more physical than he was in high school. Defensively, he’s really done a great job with (altering) shots. He uses his verticality and contests the shots at the rim.”
French averaged 6.7 points and 7.5 rebounds per game for Justin-Siena (9-17 overall, 3-11 Marin County Athletic League) during the 2013-14 season.
As a senior, he played for Prolific Prep during the 2014-15 season. Prolific Prep plays a national tournament schedule.
“He’s really a lot tougher than he was in high school,” said Ball. “He’s not afraid to meet contact with contact. He doesn’t back down and is playing with a great deal of confidence.
“His size and strength have grown since he’s been here. He’s been willing and able to operate down on the block quite a bit and then dabble in stretching the floor with the 3-point shot.”
Napa Valley has played in two tournaments to open the season.
The Storm lost both of its games at the San Francisco Invitational, falling to the host Rams, 96-74, and Santa Rosa Junior College, 101-70.
Napa Valley won its opening game of the Allan Hancock Tournament in Santa Maria, 95-77 over Santa Barbara City College. The Storm lost consecutive games to Ohlone-Fremont, 78-62, and Victor Valley-Victorville, 65-59.
“We’ve played one of the tougher preseasons again, as we do every year,” said Ball.
The combined overall record of the teams that Napa Valley has played so far is 19-13.
San Francisco is No. 3, Yuba-Marysville is No. 10, Santa Rosa is No. 18 and Ohlone is No. 20 in the California Community College Men’s Basketball Coaches Association state poll.
San Francisco is No. 2, Yuba is No. 4, Santa Rosa is No. 9, Ohlone is No. 10, and Los Medanos-Pittsburg is No. 15 in the CCCMBCA Northern California Regional Poll.
Yuba and Los Medanos play in the Bay Valley Conference with Napa Valley.
The Storm continues its season by facing Chabot-Hayward on Thursday at 2 p.m. in the first round of the James Clark Memorial Tournament at Cosumnes River College-Sacramento. It’s an eight-team field with a double-elimination format.
Napa Valley’s first home game is on Dec. 20 against Merritt-Oakland.
The depth that Napa Valley has is allowing Ball to routinely go deep into the bench, getting up to 11 or more players into each game.
“We routinely play 11-12 guys,” said Ball. “We’re really deep and that’s one of the strengths of our team is our depth. We feel that during tournament time, when you play three days in a row, I think that’s going to be a benefit for us.
“So far this year, we’ve struggled a little bit with maintaining possession of the basketball. We’re turning it over at way too high of a rate.
“We’re starting to discuss changing our pace of play so that we can reduce our turnovers. I think that we can do a great job defensively with the length that we have. We have a lot of length up front. We start a number of guys who can block a lot of shots and change a lot of shots at the rim.
“We’re just trying to figure out our identity and find our identity right now.”
The Storm have been getting very balanced scoring and rebounding.
Those players include DeAundre Twilly (8.4 points per game, 4.0 rebounds per game), Joe Fons (8.0 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 1.2 blocks per game), Sayvon Abdur-Rahman (7.6 ppg, 4.0 rpg), Armani Mills (6.4 ppg), Jayden Hampton (5.4 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 3.0 apg, 2.0 spg), Amancho Adopo (5.2 ppg, 4.4 rebounds per game, 3.8 assists per game, 1.8 steals per game), Akeem Dear (5.0 ppg, 5.0 rpg), Tom Salsman (4.8 ppg, 2.6 rpg), James Ned (4.4 ppg, 2.2 rpg), Calvin Johnson (4.3 ppg), and Malcolm Bracy (2.3 ppg).
Also on the team is Nick Pfann and Saleem Ali-Musa.
“I’m really excited about this group,” said Ball.
Ball is in his first year as president of the California Community College Men’s Basketball Coaches Association. He was vice president of the organization for two years.
Nineteen teams will qualify for the Northern California regional playoffs. The state tournament is March 8-11, 2018, at Ventura College.