Newman grad finding niche in Portland

By MICHAEL COIT
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Dropping a dozen to help the University of Portland upset nationally-ranked rival Gonzaga is Bobby Sharp’s reward for working hard to play major college basketball.

Another highlight in the Cardinal Newman and Santa Rosa Junior College first season at Portland was an 11-point effort in an 82-67 loss to then No. 1 Michigan State.

“I always envisioned myself playing at this level. But its pretty crazy,” Sharp said.

The junior has been Portland’s sixth man, providing instant offense and defending well enough to earn significant playing time.

A junior, Sharp scores 7 points a game and leads Portland in 3-pointers.

“I’m definitely here to shoot the ball,” Sharp said. “At first I was putting pressure on myself. Then I talked with the coaches and I just let the game come to me now.”

Sharp’s eager start is understandable. Growing up watching as much college basketball as he could find on television, Sharp wanted one day to play in some of the same major arenas.

Consistent improvement carried the all-Empire standout to all-California in junior college.

Portland brought in Sharp to help the Pilots try to win in the always tough West Coast Conference with the likes of perennial national powers Gonzaga, St. Mary’s and Brigham Young. Portland coaches were confident Sharp would adjust to the major college game.

“It’s a big jump,” he said. “Everyone is bigger, stronger and has the skill sets.”

While he gives up a couple of inches and 20 pounds or so to most opposing shooting guards, Sharp has added muscle and smarts to compete for minutes. Portland returned all five starters and nine players overall from last year’s team, so Sharp worked hard to get into the main rotation.

On offense Sharp has improved at getting open by reading screens.

Sharp’s greater growth has been on defense, gaining experience in practice for closing out on shooters while also cutting off driving angles.

“I’ve had to get better,” he said. “No one wants to let the team down.”

A steady hand in Portland’s split with nationally-ranked teams, Sharp was cool and confident against the toughest competition.

Playing at two-time national champion Michigan State was a treat. That the Spartans then were ranked No. 1 added to Sharp’s sense that he had made the big time.

Scoring 11 points to help keep Portland close was a huge moment for Sharp.

“It was nice to give them a little bit of a challenge,” he said.

Even better is taking down a ranked opponent.

Not in nearly three decades had Portland defeated WCC rival Gonzaga. Playing strong from the opening tip Thursday, the Pilots took away enough of Gonzaga’s scoring deep and down in the low post to win convincingly.

Five players scored in double figures for Portland with Sharp contributing 12 points, all on 3-pointers.

“We started off well and from there we kind of kept it rolling,” Sharp said. “Growing up I always wanted to play Gonzaga. Beating them was kind of surreal for me. It was an awesome win.”

Opening WCC play with a handful of home games, Portland will be on the road often in weeks to come. Portland visits the Bay Area twice, at San Francisco and Santa Clara the last week of January and at St. Mary’s and Pacific a month later.

Finding a footing on the hardwood at Portland in the WCC has Sharp playing with the best in college basketball.

“It was a kind of pinch yourself moment at first,” he said. “I’ve finally gotten over that and am just playing basketball. It’s some serious ball.”

Empire athletes in the college ranks

A look at Empire players playing in college this season:

Justin Herold — Sonoma State, senior; All-Empire at Maria Carrillo.

Herold leads Sonoma State in both scoring — 15 points per game — and rebounding — 6 — and is fifth in shooting percentage in the California Collegiate Athletic Association.

A highlight was scoring a season high 22 points at Humboldt State on Thursday.

As a junior, Herold was the Seawolves’ third-leading scorer with 11 per contest and led the Seawolves in rebounds with nearly 6 per game, and blocks. He recorded the second-best field goal percentage for one season in the program’s history and is second on the all-time list.

In his first year with Sonoma State, he was named First Team All-CCAA and became the school’s first CCAA Newcomer of the Year. Herold led Sonoma State with 15 points a game and in blocks.

Kevin Aronis — New Mexico State, senior; All-Empire at Analy; All-Big 8 Conference for SRJC.

New Mexico State’s sharpshooting guard leads the team in 3-pointers and is sixth in scoring with 8 points per game, averaging a pair of rebounds per contest. Aronis had 10 points in a loss to then-No. 19 Gonzaga.

New Mexico State was picked to win the Western Athletic Conference title in the WAC Coaches’ Preseason poll as well as in the media poll.

Last year, Aronis led the Aggies in 3-pointers and averaged 4 points and more than one rebound per contest.

New Mexico State won the WAC tournament title and fell to St. Louis in the NCAA tournament.

Tanner Giddings — Fresno State, sophomore; All-Empire Player of the Year at Windsor.

The center/forward has averaged 5 points and 4 rebounds in a handful of games for the Bulldogs. As a freshman, Giddings made nine starts and averaged 2 points and 2 rebounds per contest.

Kenny Love — Whitworth, freshman; All-Empire at Cardinal Newman.

Love is a guard at the NCAA Division 3 school in Spokane, Wash. Whitworth is just outside the Top 25 rankings.

A part-time starter, Love is fifth on the team in scoring with 8 points a game, twice topping the Pirates in the scoring column. Love is second on the team in 3-pointers.

Erik Hanson — Cal Maritime Academy, senior; All-Empire for Rincon Valley Christian.

Hanson starts at forward and is a top scorer for Cal Maritime. The team is ranked 18th in the NAIA Division II Men’s Basketball Coaches’ Top 25 Poll.

Last season, as Cal Maritime’s sixth manHanson helped lead the Keelhaulers on a run to the sweet 16 in the NAIA national tournament.

Casey Healy — Cal Maritime Academy, senior; All-Empire for Petaluma.

A guard/forward, Healy is starting again this season for Cal Maritime.

As a junior, Healy earned an Honorable Mention in the All-California Pacific Conference as one of the Keelhaulers’ top scorers.

Cal Maritime set the school record for wins and the Keelhaulers won the school’s second conference tournament title to reach the NAIA tournament.

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