In May 2010, Paul Trevor accepted an offer from then-athletic director Michael Simpson to become the head coach of the San Francisco State men’s basketball team.
Nearly seven years later, on a golden Saturday afternoon in front of a raucous home crowd at a 1950s-era gymnasium on the SF State campus known as “The Swamp,” Trevor’s Gators delivered his 100th victory with the program by beating Chico State 65-51.
* Four games remaining
Fueled by an 11-0 start to begin the 2016-17 season, the Gators are enjoying their best campaign in 75 years, since the 1941-42 team went 22-3 under all-time SF State wins leader Dan Farmer (357-211).
Sporting a gaudy 20-3 record (13-3 CCAA) alongside Top 20 rankings in both major Division II basketball polls, the long-suffering Gators have risen quickly while attracting national attention.
But things weren’t always joyous, according to Trevor.
Trevor took over the Gators in 2012. He said he wanted to revamp the program into a national contender, but knew he needed to recruit players who fit the mode and character to put San Francisco State on the map.
Trevor told SFBay:
“We met as a staff years ago and talked about what we wanted to evaluate? And what did we need to do to jumpstart the program? … We looked at the character of guys, who they were, What were their values? We wanted and looked for the guys that showed the ability to fight through adversity and to get what they really wanted.”
Trevor attributes this season’s success to the signings of senior guard Coley Apsay and junior guard Warren Jackson. Apsay is a 6-foot-2-inch combo guard who transferred from Canyon College in Southern California where he was named team MVP his sophomore season.
Jackson, a 6-foot junior scoring guard from Detroit, Michigan, is the team’s leading scorer at 15.6 ppg. Jackson was brought in from Cabrillo College, where he was honored as California Community College Athletic Association MVP.
“We had some good consistent seasons but this year we really have impact guys … The signing of Coley and Warren Jackson two years ago really helped, it was a big deal. Those guys really helped evaluate our game and help bring us to the next level from good to above average good, at least I think.”
Trevor said his goal was to bring in players who wanted compete and build a tradition. And that’s all Apsay needed to hear to attend San Francisco State:
“Coming in I knew this program didn’t have the greatest basketball history but I wanted to work with coach, and my teammates to see if we could build some kind of tradition. … And in the last two years I think we have done that in my perspective.”
Now 20-3 and ranked No. 17 by the National Association of Basketball Coaches, and tied for second place in the 13-team California Collegiate Athletic Association, the Gators have had some big wins this season, none bigger than the third game, a triple overtime win 99-93 against Western Oregon in Oregon.
Jackson told SFBay:
“It was a big win in West Oregon for us last year we would lose games like that … To beat a team that won their region a year ago at their house is huge. That win helped us start the streak, but every game is big. Everyone is good.”
Carrying momentum gained in Oregon, the Gators won their next eight games to lift the winning streak to 11 games start the season. In December, SF State earned their highest ranking ever, No. 15 in the NABC poll.
“That ranking was huge, we’ve been trying to get San Francisco State on the map, we’ve been knocking on the door with some good years, nothing over the top just good 16-win seasons … But coming out 11-0 and beating Western Oregon at their house, then sitting atop the conference, made people go, ohhh, San Francisco is good at basketball.”
Trevor said the winter break set his team back during a mandatory six-day off period. The Gators struggled to get their rhythm after returning, and fought through a few injuries to go 3-3 in their next six games.
San Francisco State got things going in the right direction, largely due to the surprise play of 6-foot-11 senior center AJ Kahlon, who has elevated his play this year to 8.4 ppg, 9.1 rpg and 2 blocks on the season.
“AJ Khalon has turned into a high-level player … He’s good on the glass defensively and he is able to finish offensively. He has superseded our expectations without a doubt.”
Strong leadership and voices in the locker room has also contributed to getting things right again, according to 7-foot sophomore Ryne Williams:
“We don’t really have just one voice, it’s several that speak up in tough times … Israel Hakim steps up, Warren, and Coley step up, they all kind of share that role … So when times get rough it could be anyone. That’s the good thing, everyone holds each other accountable.”
With the team chemistry he helped build, Trevor believes his squad has what it takes to challenge UC San Diego (19-5, 14-3 CCAA) to win the league, a feat the Gators have never done. Trevor also feels they make a run in playoffs — if they can clean up a few things on both sides of the ball:
“We are in the grind right now we need to tighten up and focus on rebounding… Also we need to execute better late games, to me those are the primary things as we move down the road to playoffs.”
This season’s success has been particularly special for 6-foot-5 senior forward Derrick Brown, one of just two four-year players on the team. Recruited out of Bakersfield, Brown said he has really seen the program grow from his freshman to senior years:
“It’s been an unbelievable year, it is something I never experienced since I came in it has always been up and down … But I built a bond with this team. It’s just icing on the top to win. Our mindset is to get a banner, that’s our focus. Coach always tells us to enjoy the moment and have fun and I think we have.”
Brown is one of five seniors who will be graduating this spring. But Trevor thinks the program can move forward behind returning key contributors Jackson, Jash Kahlon, Chiefy Ugbaja, Ryne Williams, Jase Wickliffe and Brantley Bynum:
“We’re going to lose a lot five seniors who all have been contributors to this team, but we’re hoping they laid the foundation for next year’s group and all the guys returning … But the future is bright. we established what we are about for San Francisco State basketball.”
Williams is confident the team will continue to put San Francisco State on the map for years to come:
“We got a solid core of guys coming back next year. I was just talking about this the other day we got a lot of guys coming back that are going to be pretty good.”
The Gators play their final homestand of the season this weekend they host Cal State Dominguez Hills (12-10, 8-8 CCAA) on Friday, and Cal State LA (13-13, 8-9 CCAA) on Saturday. Both games are at 7:30 p.m at the Swamp.