DOUGLAS — After months of uncertainty and wondering if there will or will not be a season, fans of the Cochise College men’s basketball team will be happy to hear the 2021 season kicks off Friday at 7 p.m. with a home game against Snow College of Ephraim, Utah.
The bad news, however. is that due to COVID-19, fans will not be able to attend any of the games this season.
“I have no idea how it will be playing in front of no fans,” men’s basketball coach Jerry Carrillo said. “But at least we are actually playing. I really would like to give thanks to our administration, our president, Dr. (J.D.) Rottweiler; our dean/AD, Dr. Bo Hal; our associate AD, Guy Meyer; our housing director, Jen Tagibal; and our athletic trainers Sierra Williams and Whitney Wilson, so much credit for making this all possible so we could ‘launch’ a season for these young men. They put in a lot of work to make this happen.”
The college will broadcast a free live stream feed of all home games through the Cochise College Athletics website and Cochise College YouTube channel.
“College officials have announced the difficult decision to not allow fans at college sporting events until further notice in order to maintain the health and safety of the student-athletes, coaches and staff,” Sharrina Cook-General, public information officer for the college, said in an email. “All athletic facilities will be closed the day of home games, and visitors will not be allowed into indoor and outdoor facilities.”
Carrillo begins his 26th season as the head coach of the Apaches. Over the past 21 years, his teams have amassed 488 wins, which breaks the record for most wins under one head coach at Cochise College. Carrillo has led the Apaches to 21 consecutive region playoff appearances, including four Region I Championships. His 1999-00, 2009-10 and 2011-12 squads won the ACCAC Conference titles outright. Assisting him again this year will be Derek Lane and David Mathews.
“It has been a crazy off-season for us, that is for sure,” Carrillo said last week. “After getting upset in the NJCAA Region I tourney on Saturday, Feb 29, that was the last time we were able to coach our guys until Tuesday, Jan. 5. 2021. It’s been a long nine months or so.”
COVID-19 pushed back the start of the basketball season from November until after the start of the new year. Carrillo says the college staff and administration have taken an abundance of measures trying to keep everyone on campus safe.
“We have an 18-page medical bundle of paperwork for our guys to complete,” the coach said. “All of our students/athletes took a rapid COVID test Jan. 4 and needed a negative test in order to participate. Our athletic training staff has a COVID symptom check app via smart phone to check our athletes daily. They also do daily temp checks prior to working out on the floor. It has been very well run thus far.”
Schools in Maricopa County have opted not to play basketball this season leaving Pima, Eastern Arizona, Arizona Western, Central Arizona and Cochise to play this year for the ACCAC championship.
Carrillo has four players back from last year’s team, one of whom is 6-foot-6 sophomore Patrick Samoura from the Czech Republic.
“He is a multi-faceted player who had a good freshman year on an ACCAC championship team,” the coach said. “Samoura looks to be one of the best returning players in our region.”
Kyle Moore, a 6-5 post player from Jonesboro, Arkansas, returns after having a solid freshman year as a role player off the bench, as does Buena grad Quay Lasua Gentry, who according to the coach “really played a solid role off the bench last season.”
Jamaal Coleman, a 6-8 post player from Ganado High School in Ganado, returns for his sophomore year. The coach said his presence should “really bolster our inside attack.”
Recruiting this offseason has been a challenge for Carrillo and his staff.
“We have been by far the most successful team in our region the last five years,” he said. “And in doing so we have had an NJCAA All-American for the last six years with Naje Smith the 2019-20 ACCAC Player of the Year. We have had the ACCAC Player of the Year back to back years. Smith was an NJCAA first team All-American and now plays for Boise State in the NCAA DI Mountain West Conference. We currently have multiple players playing NCAA DI ball this season. So our hope is we did a good job with this year’s recruiting class as well.”
Joining the Apaches this season is a redshirt sophomore, 6-3 Brian Rios, who transfered to Cochise from Ranger Junior College in Texas.
Joining him will be 6-0 Kalep Crane, from Simsboro, Louisiana, who was an all-state player last year.
Freshman guard Johnathan Garcia from Clint, Texas, was the Player of the Year in the El Paso Metro area last year and freshman Stephen Baryrd, a 6-6 forward from Atlantic City, New Jersey, was All State in New Jersey last year.
“We are optimistic about how they will progress in college,” Carrillo said. “It is a very fluid process, some guys can really produce and some do not. We shall see. Our recruiting is on pause. The NCAA and NJCAA are working in unison and have allowed this COVID season to be a ‘free season,’ so to speak, meaning no one loses a year of eligibility.”
Carrillo says his team is opening against a Snow College squad that has over 60 practices and three or four live scrimmages ahead of them, but with that said he thinks the Cochise administration was smart and safe to not have any athletes on site during the fall.
Looking ahead to the conference race, Carrillo describes it as a “crapshoot.”
“To my knowledge, Pima CC in Tucson with high school and NJCAA DII coach Brian Peabody, was the only team in Arizona allowed to have guys on site to work out in fall ‘20, so I would say Pima would have the initial ‘leg up’ on everyone else in our Region at this point,” he said. “Our goal is to get to April and see what kind of nucleus or core group we can build on for next season, which we hope will include both semesters of participation rather than the one that we have this COVID season. It has been fun and I enjoy working with these guys over the last two weeks. I am so proud of our basketball culture here at Camp Cochise; so amazing. We try and really honor the process.”