As he sits at his desk watching film of the team from last season, Las Positas College basketball head coach Tony Costello is already out to prove that this past season was a fluke.
“We need to get better,” Costello said.
What Costello believes needs to get better is a Hawks team that finished 6-21 overall with a 1-11 conference record.
The head coach of the Hawks was absent from the sidelines for most of this past season due to a bout with pancreatic cancer. While he is not out of the woods yet, Costello is now done with chemotherapy and looking forward to a return to his old stomping grounds.
“The chemo ended about a month ago. They may do some radiation. I’ll find out next week,” Costello said.
While Costello was not able to coach the team as much as he would have liked, he has been in charge of the recruiting process, which has been underway since the middle of the season.
At the community college level, recruiting is a tough business. Most basketball prospects that are really talented won’t be looking to take their talents to Las Positas College. Those star players are usually looking at schools like UC Berkeley or St. Mary’s.
The challenge for Costello is finding good players that have no choice but to attend community college.
“First you identify players that have to take the community college route. Grade-wise or whatever the reason may be,” Costello said. “You focus on them first because the other players are weighing their offers from the four-year schools.”
Costello has had multiple visits with potential recruits since the season ended and will continue to do so. Two potential recruits will meet with him this coming Friday.
“It’s active,” Costello said. “You just try to stay in contact with people. When the dust settles at the beginning of summer, things start happening.”
When recruiting players, Costello likes to stay local and find the talent that is available in the surrounding area. Occasionally, he will travel to places like San Leandro, Hayward, Tracy and Stockton, but it’s rare.
“We always look to get local players first to give them an opportunity,” Costello said.
This process is not often the case with other community colleges in the conference, like City College of San Francisco, which has recruited players in the past from countries as far away as Brazil. However, Costello’s local-first method has proven to be successful, as evidenced by the Hawks’ two playoff appearances in the past three years.
Aside from the never-ending search for possible new talent, Costello still has a young group of potentially returning players to work with. While it is too early to determine which players will be back with any degree of certainty, the players are already hitting the weight room, motivated to come back strong next season.
“They came to me and asked if they could start working out early,” Costello said. “That to me tells me that they’re hungry and focused on what’s ahead. The past season is behind them.”
One of the players who started early on the workouts is freshman guard Jacob Contreras. Having made the first-team All-Conference North squad, Contreras was the lone bright spot in an otherwise disappointing season. Having achieved this honor, Contreras will now look toward taking his game to the next level. Costello is looking for Contreras to take up a bigger leadership role in the upcoming season as they search for a way back into the playoffs.
“As the year went on, I started feeling more comfortable,” Contreras said. “I definitely see myself being a leader on this team next season.”
Contreras seemed to have really found a new level in his game during the team’s final eight contests. He averaged 16.9 points per game during that stretch, including an impressive display of shooting in their season finale. He went 8-13 from three point range.
Sophomore guard Javonte Evans was on the court to witness the performance. Evans is no longer eligible to return to the team next season, but he sees a load of potential from Contreras and the other returning players. He has no doubt that the team will have success again.
“If they follow Costello’s coaching philosophy and maintain focus, they will make it back to the playoffs next season,” Evans said.
As for why the Hawks did so poorly last season, there are plenty of reasons. Evans points to one specific key factor: a new system.
“Coach Farris did his best to fill in,” Evans said. “But having a team of mostly freshmen and not following the same system Costello had, that hurt the team.”
Costello will be back to coaching full-time next season. The system that Costello had established will be worked back in. Costello believes that potential returning players have already started to commit to getting bigger, faster and stronger in the offseason. That type of motivation is what he believes is needed to get back to the top.
Even with the type of year the team just had, Costello is confident that he can lead the team back to the post-season.
“I think the players are disappointed from last season after making the playoffs the previous two years,” Costello said. “We will get back to where we feel we should be next season.”
With a mixture of new recruits and returning talent like Jacob Contreras, it will be interesting to see if the Hawks can prove that this past season was just a mirage.