When R.J. Collins and Jesus Limon graduated from high school, no colleges offered them a scholarship. But after two seasons playing for Gavilan College, Collins and Limon are a step closer to their dreams of playing for a four-year university. Last Friday the two were inside the Gavilan gymnasium in front of family, friends and teammates to confirm their signings.
Collins, a 2014 San Benito High graduate, will play at Pacific University, a Division III program in Oregon. Limon, a 2012 graduate out of West Wendover High in Nevada, will play for San Diego Christian, a NAIA program.
“It’s definitely a dream come true because you not only get to play for a college, you get to play where you’re wanted,” Collins said. “I’ve found a place where I really wanted to be.”
Said Limon: “It hasn’t sunk in yet, but I know I’m going to get emotional. It’s been a crazy journey, and I’m just glad I was able to finish what I started.”
Collins, a 6-foot-1, 165-pound shooting guard, has always been defined by his work ethic, relentlessness and energy on the floor. That’s how Collins went from being a mediocre shooter in high school to a dangerous threat from the perimeter in community college.
Collins averaged 8.8 points, 5.6 rebounds and had a solid 2-to-1 assist to turnover ratio while shooting 34.6 percent from 3-point range last season. Collins said his 3-point shooting percentage as a sophomore was down from his freshman season because he had to shoot more shots off the dribble instead of in a catch-and-shoot type situation. That’s because injuries to the team forced Collins to play point guard at times.
“I became a more confident shooter in my freshman year,” he said.
Collins said the Pacific University coaching staff liked his ability to shoot, rebound and play defense, not to mention that he never stopped moving. Collins, who has a running background—he consistently ran sub 5:40-minute mile times as a freshman in high school—prides himself on his conditioning and ability to keep on going strong in the waning stages of a game.
“I don’t want to be the one who is tired at the end,” Collins said. “I want to be the one who still has the legs and strength to make the plays.”
In two seasons at Gavilan, Collins never missed a single, starting all 48 contests. He came over with Rams coach David Kaplansky from San Benito High, intent on honing his skills and earning that coveted scholarship. Combining athleticism, toughness and superior fitness, Collins is eager to start his career at Pacific University.
When Collins took an official visit to the college earlier this year, the coaching staff took him out to dinner on his first night in Forest Grove, which is 25 miles west of Portland. Collins got to tour the campus along with some other prominent nearby destinations, including Nike World Headquarters in Beaverton.
“That place is like an adult playground,” Collins said. “It was an amazing experience to be there.”
If Clark’s path to the four-year level was conventional, then Limon’s was the exact opposite. The 22-year-old Limon, who goes by the nickname Chuy, initially planned on playing at Gavilan in the 2012-2013 season for former Rams coach Tito Addison. One of Limon’s former high school teammates told Addison about Limon, and the two connected in the summer of 2012.
In August of that same year, Limon made the 10-hour drive from West Wendover—which sits on the Nevada-Utah border—to Gilroy only to get homesick and return home four days later.
The 6-2, 195-pound forward came back and was ridiculed. It reminded Limon of his elementary and middle school years when peers and adults made fun of him for being overweight and lacking a polished game. Limon’s fellow students picked on him for his physical appearance, while older kids always had comments that he would never amount to anything and many times literally laughed in his face.
While those experiences hurt, it helped forge a steely resolve that he would need to earn him a scholarship to play for San Diego Christian.
“It was tough at the time, but deep down inside, it was motivation for me to prove everyone wrong,” said Limon, who started only eight of 24 games this but came on strong at the end of the season.
Limon’s parents, Jesus Sr. and Lucia, migrated to West Wendover when he was 6 months old. Even though Limon’s parents didn’t agree with him going to college hundreds of miles away—“They didn’t understand what I was doing when I could work right away and make decent money,” he said—Limon credits his parents, particularly his mom, for going the extra mile to help him achieve his dream.
Every two weeks, Limon said his mom would stuff a package with homemade frozen burritos and tamales and overnight express them to Gilroy so he could survive on a limited budget.
“She made sure I had food to eat,” Limon said. “People would laugh when I told them that, but at the end of the day it saved me lot of money. She would throw in cereal, candy and would fill up that box with all sorts of things to help me out. Every time my mom’s package came, it was like Christmas all over again.”
In fact, Lucia made a number of extra batches of tamales to sell on the side to help Limon with rent money. Once the season ended in February, Limon’s hopes for transferring to a four-year school were dim at best. That’s because no colleges had made offers and to exacerbate the issue Limon was short on credits to transfer, preventing him from walking in the graduation ceremonies.
However, a bit of serendipity came Limon’s way while playing in a pickup game in San Jose in April. Limon met Oliver Sesma, a teacher who plays in adult basketball leagues and tournaments. Sesma put in a good word about Limon to San Diego Christian coach Edgar Mendez, and the two met on July 1 in San Diego.
“Coach told me he could relate to me because he had a similar story to mine,” Limon said. “About his parents not believing in his dream, how he didn’t graduate from community college. I think that is what caught his attention, and that is why he really wanted to help me out and give me an opportunity to play for his team.”
Limon has had a journey filled with so many potholes and sudden changes of direction that no one except Limon himself believed he would be in a position to play at the four-year level. Not because of talent—he’s got size and athleticism—but because of some of the decisions he’s made over the years.
Limon admitted he didn’t always make the best decisions—he partied a lot for a period of time and got out of shape, delaying his progress at Gavilan—but he persevered and grinded his way to a scholarship.
“If you don’t give up, at the end of the day you’ll be rewarded,” he said.
Ditto for Collins, whose positive attitude and workmanlike ways paved the way to a four-year university.