Benefield: SRJC men's team following the formula to perfection

SRJC Bear Cubs' Skylar Chavez (33), right, and Sadik Sufi (24) defend the basket against Diablo Valley Vikings' John Dong (10) during the first half of a men's basketball game between the Santa Rosa Junior College Bear Cubs and Diablo Valley College Vikings, at Haehl Pavilion in Santa Rosa, California, on Friday, January 19, 2018. (Alvin Jornada / The Press Democrat)


Balance and equity might not be as exciting as having an outsized star, but sometimes it leads to a whole lot of wins. And winning is exciting.

Case in point: The Santa Rosa Junior College men’s basketball team is about as balanced as they come and they are piling up the wins and sit alone atop the Big 8 Conference standings.

Sure, freshman Skylar Chavez leads the team in points with 18 per game, but behind him, all knotted up in a bundle are sophomore Sadik Sufi with 11.2 points per game, sophomore Beau Keeve with 11, sophomore Jordan Graves with 10.1, followed by sophomore Cetrick Yeanay with 8.8, and freshman Ryan Perez with 8.3.

Rebounds? Same story: Chavez grabs an average of seven per game, followed by Sufi’s 6.3, Graves’ 5.6 and a slew of guys hovering around three per night.

That egalitarianism may be a function of team chemistry or it might be necessity. Or perhaps a little bit of both.

The Bear Cubs’ lineup has changed off and on this season with injuries, but it seems that whichever group of five head coach Craig McMillan puts on the floor, that group finds a way to get it done. And sometimes the games’ big spark comes from somebody bringing it off the bench.

“I would say we are adjusting what we normally do,” McMillan said. “It’s not like we are an overly imposing team. We are a gritty team. They have made plays.”

The gritty and balanced approach is working: The Bear Cubs are 9-0 in the Big 8 and on a 12-game winning streak that has run their overall record up to 16-4.

“We’ve had to go with smaller lineups, adjust things a little bit, have different guys step up,” he said. “Every night, it’s been somebody else.”

On Friday night in a rout of visiting Diablo Valley College, the Bear Cubs’ defense smothered the Vikings, holding to the visitors’ shooting to 32 percent from the field and a miserly 23 points in the first half. It was more of the same in the second period when the Bear Cubs’ defense held the Vikings to five points in the first eight minutes of the half.

And Diablo Valley is no slouch in the Big 8. The Vikings came into the game Friday night with a 4-4 record and averaging nearly 70 points per game. When the two teams last met Dec. 20, the Bear Cubs eked out a 71-68 win.

It was nowhere near that close Friday. Not even for a moment.

The Bear Cubs were up 38-23 at the half and won 80-54. So frustrated were the Vikings with the Bear Cubs’ defense that at one point DVC sharpshooter Victor Mijas drilled a pass at a teammate that seemed to temporarily stun the guy. Coach Steve Coccimiglio had Mijas take a seat on the end of the bench for a good while after that one.

And on the other end, every Bear Cub on the active roster got into the game and every player scored.

Chavez led the charge with 15 points, followed by Perez and Sufi who both had 11, Keeve and Graves tossed in 10 apiece and freshman Trey Pugh had 8. And guard Keeve, who prepped at Terra Linda High in San Rafael, grabbed a game high 10 rebounds.

“We’ve had to win a lot of these games in (different) ways,” McMillan said. “It’s not like we are steamrolling people.”

But Chavez said that, too, points to a team-first mentality this season. After the Bear Cubs lost some players because of injury — starter Markus Gilbert, who averaged nearly seven points a night, broke his foot in December — it’s been a different guy stepping up each night.

“From the top to the bottom, everyone can go off in a game,” he said. “Everyone is talented enough to have themselves a good game.”

And the close ones? The Bear Cubs have had six games decided by five points or fewer. They won four of those.

“We don’t shy away from the moment,” Chavez said. “I think that says a lot about our team.”

And a balanced attack makes it hard for a defense to key in on one guy to stop down the stretch.

“We can grind out those kinds of hard wins,” he said.

Perez, who prepped at Petaluma High, earned particular praise from teammates as a guy who can come off the bench and provide a significant offensive spark.

“He’s been having some big games,” Sufi, who went to Windsor High, said.

And the share the ball mentality has been key, Sufi said.

“The chemistry, that is the biggest part,” he said. “The chemistry this year has really brought us together a lot. No one pouts, no one puts their head down. That is the thing that is keeping our team strong.”

The Bear Cubs are on the road tonight against the 1-8 Folsom Lake squad they handled easily on Dec. 29. After that it’s perhaps a more formidable challenge in the form of San Joaquin Delta at Haehl Pavilion on Friday. The last time the two squads met on Jan. 2, the Bear Cubs won 70-65.

San Joaquin Delta is sitting in third place in the Big 8 at 6-2 behind Modesto Community College at 7-2 and the Bear Cubs at 9-0. The Bear Cubs face Modesto on the road Feb. 6.

Though they are 9-0, having beaten everybody they are now facing in the second half of the season, Chavez said the Bear Cubs remain focused on making each game a win.

“We have had close games with a lot of different teams,” he said.

“We’ve gone through the first half strong,” he said. “Now we have to finish the back nine strong tonight as well.”

The back nine starts tonight.

You can reach staff columnist Kerry Benefield at 526-8671 or, on Twitter @benefield and on Instagram at kerry.benefield. Podcasting on iTunes and SoundCloud “Overtime with Kerry Benefield.”