By ED PETRUSKA Contributing Writer Casa Grande Dispatch/Pinal Central
SIGNAL PEAK — An influx of new players is an inevitable occurrence in the two-year world of junior college athletics. For Central Arizona College men's basketball, all of the faces will be new when the Vaqueros begin their 2017-18 season at home on Monday against the Grand Canyon University club team.
CAC coach Tramaine Aaron is hopeful the totally revamped roster, which includes three sophomore transfers, will propel CAC to the upper reaches of the Arizona Community College Athletic Conference. The Vaqueros tied for seventh in the 12-team league last season with a 9-13 record —finishing eight games behind co-champs Arizona Western College and Phoenix College — and went 16-15 overall.
Aaron said Central's level of success will be determined by how focused the players are game in and game out.
"We have the pieces and the ability,'' he said. "We need to concentrate and avoid mental lapses as much as possible. The guys have to realize every game is important and that they can't take anyone lightly."
Formal practice began Oct. 1, and Aaron has been impressed with the players' work ethic.
"I like their willingness to be coached and their basketball IQ," he said.
Despite going 1-7 against the ACCAC's four other Division I teams (Arizona Western, Cochise, Mesa and Eastern Arizona), the Vaqueros nabbed the last spot in the four-team Region 1 tournament. Their season ended with an 85-67 loss to Western in the first round.
Western, which went 26-7 overall and 17-5 in ACCAC play, won the region title game over Cochise (25-7, 16-6) before being eliminated from the postseason with a loss to Southern Idaho in the District 1 final.
Mesa finished at 18-12, 13-9 and Eastern went 15-15, 8-14.
The ACCAC's top Division II teams in 2016-17 were Phoenix (25-7, 17-5), Pima (22-13, 13-9) and Glendale (17-14, 12-10). Pima lost in the first round of the D-II national tournament.
CAC's sophomores are 6-foot-6 guard Danny Garrick, 6-6 forward Lake Del Mar and 6-2 guard Will Osborn. Eight freshmen are on the roster — 7-foot center Trever Irish; 6-1 guards Aulbrie Frazier and Cory Deveaux; 6-2 guards Quincy Smith and Will Osborn; 6-6 forward Cedric Cotton and 5-11 guard Andrew Leonard.
"I think we can be a team that pushes the floor (on offense)," Aaron said. "I like our speed and shooting ability. And I believe we can clamp down defensively."
The Vaqueros have five nonconference games prior to their Nov. 21 ACCAC opener at Scottsdale, and Aaron said he will use them to determine his rotation.
"Everyone will get an opportunity," he said. "We'll be doing some experimenting to see who fits where. But I think all these guys can definitely contribute."
In addition to home games against Westwind Academy on Nov. 15 and the Benedictine-Mesa junior varsity on Nov. 18, CAC will travel to western Texas for games against Ranger on Thursday and Odessa on Nov. 11.