MONTEREY PARK — After having the most successful season in school history last season, the East Los Angeles College men’s basketball team returned to the hardwood last weekend to open the 2015-16 season and got off to another impressive start.
The Huskies — ranked 16th in the state preseason poll — tipped it off Nov. 6 and defeated Cuyamaca College, 84-73, at the College of the Canyons Clash at Canyons Tournament. The Huskies defeated Oxnard College, 90-72, the next day to win the tournament.
Though Coach John Mosley has only one returning starter from last season’s team that lost to Saddleback College, 50-47 in the state championship game, the Huskies appear to be formidable again.
Mosley, an ELAC alumnus, has put together an impressive resume since returning to coach the Huskies in 2012. He now holds an overall record of 65-28, with three consecutive playoff appearances.
In 2013, he guided ELAC to a conference championship for the first time in 42 years, and in 2014, Mosley was named the South Coast Conference Men’s Basketball Coach of the Year as well as the Men’s Sports Coach of the Year.
The Huskies have only three players — sharp-shooting sophomore guard Miles Ford and sophomore forwards Richard Bivens and Deshawn Hill — returning from last year’s 22-11 team.
Redshirt freshman guard Chandler Redix, a Cathedral High School product, and redshirt sophomore forward Michael Foster, who attended Jordan, could play significant roles. In fact, Redix scored 20 points and had five assists and three steals in the opener versus Cuyamaca.
“I like this group,” said Mosley days before the season opener. “We had a number of players come out and make a commitment. They came out here hungry and ready to play. They’ve been beating on each other the last couple of months, so they’re ready to go.”
Due to their seniority and familiarity with the program, both Ford and Bivens have accepted the leadership roles to mentor the nine freshmen on the team.
“The only thing that I really see is me being more of a vocal leader and more of a captain,” Ford said. “I’m just glad to be back on the court with the new faces. It will be an interesting and fun season.”
As a sophomore and a team leader, Bivens will play a key role in guiding the freshmen in the right direction.
“My role is bigger this year because last year we had eight returners and this year we only have three,” said Bivens, who prepped at Ridgeview High in Bakersfield. “We’ll have to teach the freshmen coming in how to work hard and run our plays.”
Among the players they will be helping along is 6-foot-4 sophomore guard Eli Sweeny, a transfer from Portland State University who is a former Compton High star. Another top newcomer is forward Arinze Anakwenze, a transfer from Alan Hancock College in Santa Maria. Anakwenze played at Muir High School in Pasadena.
Sweeny led the Huskies with 16 points, six rebounds, three assists and three steals in the tournament opening game at Canyons. He scored 17 points and had eight rebounds the next day against Oxnard.
Ford and Bivens played significant minutes and made key contributions last season as freshmen.
Ford is a combo guard who can play the point guard position, as he did during his days at Alhambra High School, but his strengths are his ability to play on the perimeter and knock down the 3-pointer with ease, and his ability to guard on the defensive end.
Ford scored 12 points against Cuyamaca and 10 in the Oxnard game.
Aside from striving for a higher percentage from the behind the arc this season, Ford knows he’ll have to contribute more if the Huskies plan on making another state title run.
“My goal was to raise my 3-point percentage,” Ford said. “Last year, I think it was 36 percent and I’m trying to reach 40-42 percent. And just having better basketball IQ and knowing where my teammates are on the court and little things like that.”
For Bivens, a stretch-4 player who’s very versatile with all the intangibles a guard possesses, emphasized on tightening up his skillsets and has put extra effort in the weight room to endure and match opponents’ physicality during the season.
“I made sure to make my jump shot more consistent so I can be able to shoot the ball,” said the 6-9 Bivens. “I’ve been in the weight room to get stronger to avoid being pushed and getting boxed out easily. And I’ve been working on my ball handling.”
According to Mosley, the inexperience doesn’t play a huge factor due to the fact of the maturity of the freshmen.
“We have a lot of youth and that is good,” he said. “We plan on using the youth as a big part of the team. Them making progress quickly so we can use some of their strengths will be important to the team.”
Mosley also discussed the distinct characteristics that are already setting apart this year’s team from last season’s.
“We’re a little bit more physical, athletic, and I think we’re a little bit quicker,” he said. “If we can just get to the point where we can just play really good defense and get quicker (on the defensive end) we should be able to rebound better because we can jump better. We also should be able to execute better because I like our ability to score.”
Sequan Walker, a freshman guard from Long Beach Cabrillo High School, scored 14 points in the win over Oxnard and had seven against Cuyamaca. Freshman forward Zeno Lake, a Compton High product, put in 12 points in the Cuyamaca game.
“Our first goal is to win a conference championship,” Mosley said, “Our second goal is to make it to that Final Four.”