After a rough season last year, the 2019-20 Orange Coast College men's basketball team has the depth and talent for a complete turnaround season. All the Pirates need is some team-wide health and extended stints IN the gym together and NOT IN the OCC training room!
"Starting the season, we are banged up … no doubt about it," OCC head coach Steve Spencer said. "We haven't had a lot of time with our full team on the floor. We've had as many as eight of our top 12 guys dealing some type of injury or setback, but hopefully we will start getting these guys back one at a time and we will continue to gel and get better as a team. Other guys are stepping up and getting ready for the season and the positive thing is that the injuries are giving others the opportunity to step up and show what they can do. That will only help the depth of our team moving forward."
One key returner from last year is sophomore guard Jonathan Ileleji, who led the Pirates in just about every offensive category as a freshman, averaging 15.9 points, 3.1 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game in 2018-19.
"Jonathan is looking for an ever better season this year," Spencer said of Ileleji. "He's definitely a solid scorer for us and as he keeps working hard, his all-around game is coming around too. We will need him to be at his best this year for us."
"These guys bring experience and knowledge of what we are trying to do here so that will be extremely valuable for us as our newer players get acclimated," Spencer said. "Aaron has improved in all facets and Jalen and Brian have solid skills and will definitely contribute to this team."
Among the key newcomers for the Pirates this year is freshman guard/forward Andres Ortega. The 6-foot-4 standout from Garden Grove HS averaged 13.6 points, 5.4 rebounds and 3.1 assists for GGHS as he helped lead his team to the second round of the CIF Southern Section Playoffs.
"I've been very pleased with Andres and what he's been able to do with our program in a short amount of time," Spencer said. "He's a great kid, who works hard on both sides of the floor and he's just a hard-working kid with a great attitude. We need to get him healthy and get him on the floor because he will be a big help for us moving forward."
Another local product for the Pirates is 6'5 first-year player Aundrel Pua, who was a standout player at Pacifica HS. "I always love getting players from our area and we are definitely excited about Aundrel and what he can do for us," Spencer said. "At 6'5, he can play down low and he has the athletic ability to be a factor on both sides of the floor. Definitely another kid we'd like to see at 100% health very soon."
Fellow freshman Myles Woods is another good-sized kid, who, at 6'4, can play either guard or forward and has the natural basketball instincts to be a difference-maker for the Pirates. "He doesn't have the high school experience, but he still wanted to give it a go at the JC level and we are happy to have him with us," Spencer said. "He's got length and a very versatile, all-around game."
With their usual, "defense-first" approach to the game, a guy like 6'1 freshman Josh Frimpong fits right into the OCC program. "Josh is a quick, defensive player who can really cause havoc on that side of the ball," Spencer said. "He also has some offensive firepower too, which is great to see. We like to cause chaos and play our game, under control, in that chaos."
Coming from Hawaii is 6'2 freshman guard Keo Chun, who helps balance out the defensive side of things with some offensive skills for the Pirates. "He can definitely shoot the ball for us," Spencer said. "We are looking forward to seeing him improve on the other parts of the game and he will really be a dangerous player for us,"
Adding to the depth of the Pirates include 6'0 guard Maurice Norris, who will be with the program after this year's football season, 6'6 forward Chase Nomaaea, 6'5 forward Josh Mallot, 5'10 guard Isaiah Vargas, 6'0 guard Xinjie "Jay" Vu and 5'10 guard Colby Reese. "All of these guys are working extremely hard for us and will earn plenty of court time, especially early on when we are trying to find the right combinations on the court," Spencer said. "Like I said earlier, the injuries have been a 'good' thing in terms of giving more guys more playing time and making us a much deeper club."
The future is bright for the Pirates and Spencer is excited to see what this team is like when everyone is available. "We've got some length on the wing positions, a big guy down low and some guys who can really get after it," Spencer said. "It will take some time to get everyone on the same page and the early part of the season will be used to get everyone up to speed as we head into conference."