SAN FRANCISCO — If you’re a basketball grinder, you know the story. If not, meet San Francisco State men’s basketball coach Paul Trevor and his Division II Gators.
For every Dickie V-crazed moment on ESPN when a Big East blue-chipper throws down in traffic, for every Road to the Final Four showdown, far from the glitz and glamour of big-time college hoops there are three times as many games going in all over the country in places like San Francisco State, a program that has all of 2.5 scholarships.
“It’s a little different world,” Trevor says as he walks into his small office that he shares with two assistants, pointing out along the way the graduate program for physical therapy’s conference room that doubles as his team meeting place.
“You’re looking at shared resources,” the second-year coach said dryly.
Make it clear that he wasn’t complaining. SFSU, except for the scholarship part, is well-funded, it has what it needs to travel well and recruit potential student-athletes. Trevor admits he pitches different kids in different ways, but basically:
“I think the No. 1 thing is I’m going to sell them a good experience,” he said. “I’m going to teach them how to play basketball, you’re gonna get a good degree and move forward in life, you’re gonna get to live in San Francisco, which is a great city and you can enjoy that experience. There are a lot of different angles on that.”
As they head into the New Year, the Gators are 2-9, but one of those victories was a stunner against Jacksonville State, a Division I school from Alabama that they beat in a tournament in November.
Now they’re immersed in the California Collegiate Athletic Association schedule, one they started 0-5. But it’s early for a collection of players that includes four freshmen, two junior college transfers and three other transfers. They know SFSU went 16-11 last season, 14-8 in the CCAA, so finishing strong is within their realm.
One of the transfers, James Albright, is tied with sophomore Nefi Perdomo for leading-scoring honors at 14.9 points per game. Albright is a junior from Oakland who averaged 2.8 points and 1.3 rebounds the past two seasons at Cal State Bakersfield.
“He’s an undersized 6-6 kind of post player and he’s our leading scorer right now,” Trevor said. “He’s got two years left and couldn’t be happier. He’s from Oakland and a mismatch for most guys at this level.”
Perdomo is a 6-foot-1 guard from Oakland who averaged 10.9 points and 3.5 rebounds last year. This year’s leading rebounder is Griffin Reilly, a 6’6″ transfer from Loyola Marymount who is averaging 9.6 points, 6.6 rebounds, and thrilled to be a Gator.
The product of San Jose was a walk-on at LMU, who, despite playing in 22 games, realized it was a bad fit.
“I came here for a visit and fell in love with the school,” Reilly said. “The guys had a lot of respect for coach Trevor and I thought that spoke very highly of him.”
Trevor told him he would get his minutes at SFSU.
“Coach Trevor said he believed in me and thought I could play minutes. That was all I needed to know.”
Trevor is a self-described grinder, the guy who did whatever it took to get into the basketball-coaching business. You can tell he loves the game, loves the kids and knows he’s making an impact.
“In Division II and Division III you get the widest range of stories,” Trevor said. “These kids, their backgrounds can be from all over the place because our clock is a little different and it’s just a different world. But I think you find that kids who play the game at the NAIA, Division II, Division III level love the game. They really love the game.”
They would have to to play for a guy like Trevor, whose determination and perseverance have paid off.
“My passion was always for coaching. I worked my way up. I got lucky.”
Trevor is from the Bay area but didn’t play in college. For that matter, he went to four of them before graduating from Sonoma State, where he got his first job. His resume includes stops at the University of San Francisco and as associate head coach at Cal State-San Bernadino, a well-funded DII, where the program had tremendous success.
“I had a weird path,” he admitted.
Not to a hoops junkie. He started as a non-paid volunteer assistant at Sonoma.
“I was one of those guys. Just a grinder. Would take anyone’s job. Who wants to work out the kids at 6 in the morning? I got it. Who wants to do that? I got it. I didn’t care. I did whatever I had to.”
That’s another reason he’s not taking it easy. Trevor and his wife, Cari Lyn, have a daughter. Perhaps his job would allow him to spend more time with the family than, say, being the head coach at one of those big-time schools.
“Here I have more time, where I can gradually bring my program along to where it needs to be,” he said, meaning that not winning big right away won’t cost him his job. But that doesn’t mean taking his foot off the gas. “I could be that way, but I’m not. I’m not. I have goals. I mean, I didn’t scrap for 18 years to come here and [throw] it away. I have things I want to get done.”
That’s a big reason why Alex Pribble is his only paid assistant. Pribble, from nearby Fairfax, where he starred at Sir Francis Drake High School, played at Cal under Ben Braun. He spent the past three years coaching high school. Trevor was one of his coaches when Tribble was a little boy.
The staff also includes three volunteers.
“I’m pretty lucky,” Trevor said. “I’ve got a lot of guys who want to work really hard. Hopefully I can do something for them.”
One of them, Tim Morgan, is a volunteer who gave up teaching job in Colorado to come home. He’s from nearby Marin and called Trevor to see if he could volunteer.
“He’s a substitute teacher,” Trevor marveled. “Then he gets here every day and works his butt off.”
SFSU is a school of just more than 30.000 students, right up there with the biggest schools in the biggest conferences anywhere. But it’s in an urban setting and has grown tremendously, making a transition from being primarily a commuter college to one that includes, by Trevor’s estimation, about 12,000 who live on campus.
What’s more, it’s not cheap to go to college in California if you’re from out of state, which forces SFSU to pretty much recruit only California kids.
“San Francisco itself is very expensive, so it’s a very diverse group we’re trying to bring in here,” Trevor said.
They use their scholarship monies wisely, rely on Pell Grants, and do what they can.
“Amazing, huh? We won 16 games last year with two and a half scholarships,” Trevor said with a smile. “It’s an amazing kid I’ve got to go get.”
That’s not lost on the kids. Chad Delaney, from Yorba Linda, Calif., is 6’1″ guard who transferred from Orange Coast College, where he averaged 13.9 points and 3.2 rebounds last season. This year, he’s been finding his way, averaging 3.0 points while playing just more than 15 minutes a game.
“I like the city, I like the guys on the team, I just like everything about it,” Delaney said.
“It’s a very tough league. Any team can beat any other on any given night. Some of the teams in this league are better than some of the DI teams we’ve played.”
Reilly, for example, pointed out that running sand dunes at the beach and training at nearby Golden Gate Park made for a tougher preseason than he’d ever been a part of.
“He killed us,” Reilly joked about Trevor.
“It’s that much harder because you don’t get a lot of credit. You do a lot of work and sometimes it goes unseen.”
“Obviously the media is going to see the DI schools,” Delaney said. “I wish there was more support from the students on campus. At the DI schools, the students show up at the games. Here, the students just don’t seem to care and don’t up.”
SFSU averaged 510 fans for its first three home games this season. It’s all part of the challenge.
As the school’s 15th-year athletic director, Dr. Michael James Simpson, said, “When you’re talking about donor money, when you’re talking about signage and exposure, we can’t provide the type of exposure that Stanford can, or Cal can or San Jose or some of these other places.”
He knows first-hand, because before he became A.D. Simpson was the school’s baseball coach at a place that hasn’t had football since it dropped it in 1995 to better comply with gender equity.
“Coaching here you really feel like you really are making a difference,” James said. “And your success is not so much measured by whether or not you won the league but by the phone calls and emails you get 10 years later.”
Grinders get that.
“You have to make sacrifices here,” Trevor said. “I can’t go out and get seven Division I transfers because I can’t afford ‘em. I can’t afford ‘em. So I have to get kids who are good basketball players who are willing to make a sacrifice, learn the game and be part of something great. So I try to treat my kids really well.”