The San Francisco State Gators are stirring up the national rankings in Division II men’s basketball. Having previously not seen their name on a coaches poll in over 20 years, the Gators — off to a 10-0 start — find themselves at No. 21 in this week’s National Association of Basketball Coaches Poll.
The Gators entered the rankings last week for the first time since the 1993-94 season, debuting at No. 25. After reeling off two more wins, they jumped four spots this week, marking the first time that the Gators have appeared in the national rankings for consecutive weeks in the history of the program.
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It was the first time they started off 8-0 since the 1941-42 Gators went 9-0. This record-setting rendition of the Gators has now surpassed that team, currently sitting at 10-0 heading into Sunday’s California Collegiate Athletic Association bout with Humboldt State.
The Gators are loaded with a veteran-laden roster, with a bevy of returning upperclassmen, including six seniors. While many have transferred into the program, senior guard Nick Calcaterra has been a Gator all four years. He has watched his team go 41-38 over his first three seasons as a Gator, registering 14, 11 and 16 wins, respectively. Already sitting at 10-0, the record-setting start is beyond even his expectations.
“It’s pretty crazy,” Calcaterra said. “Coming into this year I don’t think any of us came in here thinking we were going to break these records that we have so far. We’ve stuck with it, and we use it as confidence to move forward and keep it up as much as possible.”
Calcaterra started as a role player off the bench his freshman season, working his way up the ranks and starting 18 of 27 games last season en route to earning the team’s Most Improved Player honors. This year he has been a jack of all trades, averaging 9.2 points per night, 3.9 rebounds per game all while chipping in 2.1 assists and 2.1 steals as well.
Looking at the stats, it is clear that no one Gator has to do it alone. Combined they are 23rd in the nation with their stingy scoring defense, allowing just 65.5 points per outing. Senior big man A.J. Kahlon is chipping in a double-double per game (11.7 points and 10.7 rebounds) while junior reserve guard Warren Jackson leads the team with 16.6 points per game and 4.5 assists. Senior guard Coley Apsay rounds out the balanced attack, chipping in 13.1 points a night to their 84.1 points a game average.
“That’s what is kind of cool about this team,” Calcaterra said. “We have a lot of pieces and we trust each other. Warren [Jackson] hasn’t started a game all year, but he has been our go-to guy. He doesn’t care — neither do the rest of us — about starting. We just want to win games. And what we’re doing right now is working. We trust each other on the court, and off the court we are really close. That chemistry helps us move forward.”
The CCAA is a perennial power conference in the West, sending four teams to the NCAA tournament last season. No matter how early it may be in the season, it is key for the Gators to jump out to a hot start in such a competitive conference.
“There are always some games that you want to circle and get those wins, like a Chico or a San Diego,” Calcaterra said. “But coach has said all year, focus one game at a time. We got Humboldt coming up Sunday before our break and we really want to try to go into this break 11-0. But there are definitely some games we want to win.”
Entering the season projected to finish sixth in the CCAA, this team full of experience and leadership was eager to prove everyone wrong. Thus far, their game plan has worked, and keeps reeling off win after win.
“The preseason rankings, we were No. 6 [in the CCAA],” Calcaterra said. “We had this mentality that we had to come out every day in practice and play hard and test each other, and it’s helped us in the long run so far. It did give us a chip on our shoulder, wanting to come in and prove people wrong. Starting off with the record we have this year, we’re up there with the Chicos and the San Diegos. It gives us confidence.”
Now, the heart of the CCAA schedule comes at the Gators. Chico State awaits them for their first game out of the break, and UC San Diego is a mere two weeks later. With no out of conference games remaining on the schedule, every game is a huge game for this Gators team as they continue their run into uncharted territory.
But that hasn’t changed the Gators. It hasn’t changed how they will approach the new year, nor will it change their ultimate end goal.
“We are definitely confident in ourselves from the way that we are playing,” Calcaterra said. “Our goal is to win the CCAA Championship. It’s been our goal for the four years that I’ve been here and I’m sure it was Coach [Paul] Trevor’s goal before I got here. We’re staying level-headed though. We know we have a great conference, and we have to take one game at a time.”