By MICHAEL COIT
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
He was labeled a step slow and a few pounds too light. Alec Kobre never let that limit his aim of playing major college basketball.
Following an impressive sophomore season at Santa Rosa Junior College, in which he was named most valuable player of the state tournament, the former Montgomery sharpshooter will continue his career to University of the Pacific. Also advancing to the West Coast Conference is SRJC teammate Matt Hayes. The guard from Elk Grove will play for Loyola Marymount University.
“Those coaches know what they’re getting. I’m sure Alec and Matt can help them,” SRJC coach Craig McMillan said.
Kobre was not an obvious candidate to play Division I basketball coming out of high school. Even after an All-Empire senior season at Montgomery, he redshirted his first year at SRJC and had to compete for playing time with the Bear
Cubs the next two seasons.
“It was a big transition,” Kobre said. “I needed to get stronger. I had to learn a lot. Your basketball IQ has to be a lot better.”
Improving his quickness and adding muscle helped Kobre become a more reliable defender. Always a strong shooter, he improved at reading defenses and screens to get open looks at the basket.
After making the most of his opportunities as a redshirt freshman, Kobre was Santa Rosa’s second-leading scorer as a sophomore, averaging 15.3 points per game. He shot 44.8 percent from the 3-point line, making 3.5 per game. He also connected on 89.3 percent of his free-throw attempts.
“Alec took over the leadership spot this year. He was more than ready,” McMillan said. “I had confidence Alec would do well, but I never expected him to have the year he did.”
Kobre helped lead Santa Rosa to the California Community College Athletic Association title, earning tournament MVP. He also was a second team all-state selection.
“You’ve just got to keep working hard. You just stick with it and you’ll probably have a good season,” Kobre said.
Another big reason for Santa Rosa’s success was Hayes. The team’s leading scorer (16.2 points per game), Hayes was named first team all-state and Big 8 Conference most valuable player.
A year earlier, Hayes helped lead Pleasant Grove High School to a California Interscholastic Federation state title.
“I had the potential to make that jump to college. Playing under coach McMillan prepared me,” Hayes said.
The pair add to a growing company of players who have developed into major college athletes under McMillan’s guidance, including Bobby Sharp (Portland), Kevin Aronis (New Mexico State), and Sama Taku and Lorenzo McCloud (Pacific).
Kobre follows the path to Pacific.
“When one of your players goes to a program and is successful, you have confidence in what the coaches are doing. It’s a two-way street there,” McMillan said.
Coaches expect junior college transfers to be more prepared for the competition at the next level than their high-school counterparts. Kobre will be challenged to help the Tigers right away.
“I’m going in to have an impact,” Kobre said. “I was recruited to shoot, so hopefully I’m able to get some open looks and shoot the ball well with them.”
Sharing such confidence is Pacific coach Ron Verlin.
“Alec is a … tremendous shooter with outstanding range, and a mentally tough player who has shown he can make big shots,” he said.
Similar expectations await Hayes at Loyola Marymount.
“He has shown great range in both high school and last season at Santa Rosa,” Loyola Marymount coach Mike Dunlap said. “We are very excited to have Matt join our program. He is another important piece to our puzzle.”
Going in with the mindset of pushing for starting time, Hayes is confident he can effectively fill the role of a scoring point guard.
“You just have to go with the flow of the game and make the right decisions,” Hayes said. “I’m going to have to work for it.”
The two will first compete in summer workouts for both programs, a regimen of weightlifting, running, and shooting and skill drills.
“I’m really excited to get the summer going,” Kobre said.
Putting in the work is nothing new for SRJC players.
“Coach McMillan pushes us really hard. He treats us like an NCAA program,” Kobre said. “We have intense practices. Everyone is held accountable.”
Helping players make the move to the top college ranks includes encouraging success in the classroom.
“They can make the transition to the next level very smoothly,” McMillan said. “That’s one of the more satisfying things in coaching junior college. And they’re doing it not just on the basketball court.”
SRJC players from the 2013-14 team headed to four-year college programs:
Alec Kobre: University of Pacific (Montgomery High).
Matt Hayes: Loyola Marymount University (Pleasant Grove High, Elk Grove).
Brian Johnson: California Maritime Academy (Maria Carrillo High).
Luke Cocheran: Sonoma State (Del Oro High, Loomis.)
Former players who excelled after SRJC:
Bobby Sharp: In his first season at Portland, the Cardinal Newman alum led the Pilots in 3-point shooting and was fifth in scoring. He is a senior next season.
Kevin Aronis: In his two seasons at New Mexico State, the former Analy standout led the Aggies in 3-point shooting. Aronis helped lead New Mexico State to consecutive NCAA tournament appearances.
Sama Taku: Out of Tucson, he helped lead Pacific in scoring as a senior following a strong junior campaign.
Lorenzo McCloud: Originally from Compton, he was the scoring leader both seasons at Pacific, the last in 2012-13.
Michael Coit can be reached at 521-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Follow PDPreps on Twitter: @PDPreps