C.J. Simmons insists he doesn’t need to change much as a head coach.
It’s what happens when you guide Cabrillo High to its sixth Los Padres League boys basketball championship as a rookie head coach – proving to win an outright league championship after replacing longtime CHS coach Gary West.
Simmons is heading into this season with an extra year of experience on his resume – joined by a deep and experienced group of Conquistadores seeking a CIF title and state playoff appearance.
“I’m the same. The job is to grow as a coach every year. But our philosophy hasn’t changed,” Simmons said by phone on Wednesday afternoon. “I don’t feel the need to change after one successful season.”
If there is one thing Simmons would like to change, it’s Cabrillo falling short of a CIF title game appearance or state bid. The memories of CHS’s final game last season – the 61-60 nail-biter against Santa Fe Springs St. Paul in the playoffs – have still resonated with these Conqs and Simmons.
“It’s the one game that’s stuck with us,” Simmons said. “Now, moving on to CIF is the goal. It would be nice to experience state. It hasn’t happened yet at Cabrillo.”
Simmons is more optimistic than ever since there’s been some reshuffling of the Southern Section’s 3A division.
“I know there are powerhouses that left our division. So our chances are healthy,” said Simmons, who mentioned how state powers St. Paul, Long Beach St. Anthony, Hesperia and Lancaster Paraclete have all defected elsewhere.
Simmons, a 2007 graduate of Cabrillo, graduated three seniors from his first team last year. But this team is a more seasoned group.
“We have more experience with nine seniors this year – including seven who played a lot last year,” Simmons said. “Our physicality and defensive pressure is what I’m excited about.”
Two key losses were Trevaughn Ross, who graduated, and top post presence Jordan Tyler, who has since transferred to Lompoc High. Simmons, however, has one key weapon on the floor back once again: Reigning All-Area Most Valuable Player LeAndrew Knight. Now in his fourth season on varsity, Simmons is banking on Knight to add a leadership initiative for his senior campaign.
“LeAndrew still has a lot to prove,” Simmons said. “I would love to see him command the floor more – be more of a floor general and a true point guard.”
Knight was always a threat to score 18 to 30 points on any given night – often taking over games with his 3-point touch. Knight had coaches from NCAA Division II program Concordia University in Portland visit him recently.
Simmons believes that outside of the area MVP, one Conquistador could surprise this season.
“Ryan Aguilar. He’s come a long way,” Simmons said. “He does all the little things for us. I believe he’s going to be great.”
Other key players back include senior shooting guard Nico Marquez, who was a valuable defender last season, and Blake Beecher, who saw early action as a sophomore on varsity last year.
Cabrillo started its season in the Nordhoff Tournament, which ended Saturday.