By MARTY JAMES
There is so much that coach Steve Ball likes about his Napa Valley College men's basketball team, which opens the 2019-2020 season with two nonconference games at the Cabrillo Tip-Off in Aptos, on Nov. 1 and 2.
There is all the time, effort and work, going back to the summertime, that the group has put in, preparing for the season.
There is a very tight bond and a closeness that they have developed.
There is the experience, talent and leadership of the four returning sophomores.
There is the excitement and energy that the freshmen class brings to the team.
"I'm really excited and really happy about the group's work so far," said Ball, who is assisted by Carson Caratinni and Rae Hubbard. "This group has been very, very focused in on getting here on time, doing the work that's necessary, doing extra work outside of practice time. They are very bought in.
"With as many freshmen as we have, they just need to get more reps at this level."
There are 14 players on the roster. Collectively, it's the "best group of teammates" that Ball said he has ever had.
"I think you can only help morale to be a great teammate," said Ball, the past president of the California Community College Men's Basketball Coaches Association. "They can joke around with one another. I see them in the weight room all the time, having fun together. They're very cohesive."
"Braxton is a leader, in that he does put in extra work, more than anybody else," said Ball. "He knows what we're asking of them more than anybody else. He's not an enormously vocal person. However, when he does pick it up, he's listened to and heard."
Ali-Musa averaged 9.1 points and 6.2 rebounds per game last year. Macias averaged 1.2 points and 2.9 rebounds per game.
Napa Valley was 5-23 overall and 3-13 in the Bay Valley Conference last year. The Storm placed eighth in the conference.
The Storm will play at the Cabrillo Tip-Off, a four-team tournament, to open the season. Napa Valley will face Cabrillo on Nov. 1 at 7 p.m. and depending on whether it wins or loses, will play at either 3 or 5 p.m. on Nov. 2. San Joaquin Delta (Stockton) and Shasta (Redding) are also in the tournament.
Cabrillo begins the season at No. 27 in the preseason California Community College Men's Basketball Coaches Association poll.
Napa Valley will play in three more tournaments during the nonconference season and has a 28-game regular season schedule.
"I'm excited to see their growth. I'm excited because their intellectual growth is coming along very well," said Ball. "You know, this isn't 13th grade. We're talking about the best of the best coming into compete at this level. Some nights they'll be playing against guys that are 24 years old, and their response to that physicality, that speed of the game, that competitiveness at this level is going to be what I'm excited about.
"I need them to progress with their toughness. Everybody's got a game plan until you get punched in the face. And so once they take that first knock, I'm excited to see how they respond because I know that they can do it."
Napa Valley plays its home opener on Nov. 14 against College of the Redwoods (Eureka).
The Storm will play in the Bakersfield Extravaganza, Nov. 22-23, at Bakersfield College. Napa Valley faces Cerro Coso (Ridgecrest) on Nov. 22 and meets Bakersfield on Nov. 23
The Storm plays in the James Clark Classic, Dec. 5-7 at Cosumnes River (Sacramento). The Storm opens against Reedley on Dec. 5. Also in the event is Las Positas (Livermore), Feather River (Quincy), Sacramento City, Merced, College of the Siskiyous (Weed), and host Cosumnes River.
The Storm also plays in the Kris Kringle Tournament, Dec. 12-14 at Santa Rosa Junior College. Napa Valley opens against Feather River on Dec. 12. Redwoods, Cañada (Redwood City), Los Medanos (Pittsburg), Shasta (Redding), University of Antelope Valley JV and host Santa Rosa are also entered.
The Bay Valley Conference season for Napa Valley begins on Dec. 18 against Merritt (Oakland). Yuba, the defending BVC champion, is No. 13 in the preseason poll.
"I'm really excited about watching their growth as people and as young men," said Ball. "We're further along intellectually than we have been in the past because they've picked up on quite a few things. And I'm just looking forward to seeing them make that next step into in their growth."
Ball has not announced a starting line-up, as there are so many players competing for spots and playing time.
"I'm really happy about our depth," the coach said. "They're definitely hungry and they definitely want to be out there. I think that quite a few of them have some versatility. We have some length out there at the wing position. That can allow us to maybe switch some screens, change things up defensively to take advantage of that length, where they can guard multiple positions, and play multiple positions on the offensive end also. I would say that versatility is one of our strengths.
"We're going to have some guys on the floor that can shoot the basketball at all times and handle the press."
Napa Valley scrimmaged eight opponents, hosting the Storm Scrimmages and playing in the American River College (Sacramento) Showcase and City College of San Francisco Showcase, as part of its non-traditional season, in September. The Storm had scrimmages against Diablo Valley (Pleasant Hill), Santa Rosa, Columbia (Sonora), Folsom Lake, Skyline (San Bruno), Butte (Oroville), College of San Mateo and Cañada (Redwood City).
With a very talented freshmen class, the future looks bright for NVC.
The top freshmen include:
* Jaivon Williams, from John Tyler High in Tyler, Texas, can play both the point guard and wing positions.
* Brandon Radu, a guard who is out Redwood High School (Larkspur), is very athletic and shoots exceptionally well, according to Ball.
"He has a really strong head for the game," said Ball.
Radu averaged 12.1 points, 3.8 rebounds, 1.8 steals and 1.4 assists per game last year for Redwood, which went 24-9 overall and 13-3 in the Marin County Athletic League. Redwood was second in the MCAL and went 1-1 in the league playoffs, 2-1 in the CIF North Coast Section Division 2 playoffs, and 1-1 in the CIF State Division III playoffs.
* Zach Swim was named as the Player of the Year on the Napa Valley Register's 2018-19 All-Napa County team for Napa High. Swim averaged 16.5 points, 7.2 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.3 steals per game as Napa won the Vine Valley Athletic League title, went 23-6 overall and reached the CIF North Coast Section Division I playoffs. Swim was also named as the VVAL Most Valuable Player.
"Zach is very versatile. He can play the wing position and the mover position, a blocker position for us," said Ball. "What I love about Zach is that he's a very downhill player. He doesn't have a lot of shiftiness to his game. When he makes a decision, he sticks to it. And that assertiveness is going to pay off for him."
Swim will play a wing position.
* Chance Martin-Farrell, from Redwood (Larkspur) will play point guard. He got a lot of playing time in the scrimmages due to a leg injury that Adderly suffered.
"He's got a high basketball IQ and sees the floor very well," said Ball. "He's very selective with his shot and he shoots a high percentage when he does shoot it."
Martin-Farrell averaged 6 points, 3.1 rebounds, 2.9 assists and 1.6 steals per game last year for Redwood.
* Brian Green, a forward out of Granite Hills High, will play power forward.
"He's an amazing rebounder and an amazing screener," said Ball. "He gets guys open and uses his body very well."
* Shakir Howard, from Fairfield High, is a top shooter and defender and will play a wing position.
"He's still learning our offense and our defense, but he's carrying some effort things over and some skill sets that he has over really well," said Ball. "He can he can really put the ball in the basket. And he's a really good defender on the basketball."
Also on the team are Gio Magdaleno (guard, Ferndale High), Vincent Larson-Wheeler (guard, American Canyon High), Wil Lane (guard, Oak Creek High of Wisconsin) and Joseph Aldridge (forward, Vintage High).
Ball likes the look and feel of the refurbished and re-designed gym floor, a project that was completed in the summer. The maple floor features the Storm's athletic logo with the school's colors, forest green and gold, in the center circle area. The improvement project, to sand and refinish the gym floor, was completed in about three weeks by H.Y. Floor and Gameline Painting, Inc. of San Carlos.
"The guys are excited. I just love the look of it. It's so clean," said Ball.
* Marty James is a freelance writer who makes his home in Napa. He retired on June 4, after spending 40 years as a sports writer, sports editor and executive sports editor for the Napa Valley Register, a daily newspaper in Napa County. He is a 1979 graduate of Sacramento State and a member of the California Golf Writers & Broadcasters Association, Associated Press Sports Editors, and California Prep Sports Media Association. He was inducted into the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Hall of Fame in 2016 and the Vintage High School Athletic Hall of Fame in September of 2019.