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Xander Bowers, a Gavilan College forward and former Christopher High standout, has been instrumental defensively for a Rams team that recently won its second conference championship in program history. Gavilan hosts Modesto in a Northern California playoff game on Friday.

For the first time in 49 years, the Gavilan College men’s basketball team can call itself champions. The Rams defeated San Jose City College 75-57 last Friday, clinching just their second conference title in program history (the only other title came in 1969). The Rams finished the regular-season at 23-4 overall and 9-3 in the Coast Conference South Division, earning the No. 7 seed in the California Community College Northern California playoffs. Gavilan plays host to No. 10 seed Modesto (20-8) on Friday.

How has first-year Rams coach Dallas Jensen been able to lead the team to more wins this season (23) than in the previous 10 years combined? By recruiting talented players and creating an environment that fosters closeness and accountability.

Take it from players like Brian King Jr., who played a season at San Jose City College and spent half a semester at Fresno City College before finding his way to Gavilan.

“This really is a much different place to play than everywhere else,” said King Jr., who pumped in a season-high 34 points in a 96-89 win over Hartnell on Feb. 14 and followed that up with 21 points against San Jose City. “Dallas helps you out—he’s making sure we take school seriously so we can transfer and basketball is just a part of it. He focuses on mentoring and helping us in life.”

Xander Bowers, a 2016 Christopher High graduate, has had plenty of long talks with Jensen, especially in the 2016-2017 school year in which Bowers chose not to play to focus on off the court matters including recovering from an injury.

“Coach has connected with all of us and our personal lives,” said Bowers, a 6-foot-7, 205-pound forward. “He’s more of a relationship-type coach. He focuses on basketball, but he takes things outside the game. Things like how we’re doing with our families, and just making sure everything is good with us.”

King was simply unstoppable against Hartnell, shooting 13 of 19 from the field. He also shot a perfect 7 for 7 from 3-point range in the first half against San Jose City. Athletic, strong and quick, King has a simple method of attacking defenses.

“I try to get to the basket, but if they leave me open, I’ll pull up for a 3-pointer,” he said. “I also try to get to the free throw line a lot.”

King said the chemistry and feel of being on this year’s team is noticeable from some of the past places he’s been at.

“It’s different on and off the court,” he said. “It feels like a family here, where everyone gets along.”
For Bowers, playing this season is literally a family affair. His older brother of three years, Takoda, is one of the team’s key reserves. This is actually the first time the two have played on the same organized team together, as Takoda missed his senior season at Christopher—when Xander was a freshman—due to injury.

“Everything has lined up, and it’s been a lot of fun playing together because he is someone I have played against my whole life,” Xander said.

Xander knows there is a special element to the Gavilan team this season.

“It’s the best team I’ve ever been on, and the most I’ve ever gotten along with my teammates,” Bowers said. “We’ve been together 213 days, and winning a conference championship is something we’ve been looking for. Getting a banner on the (gym) wall would mean the world to us.”

Bowers and King also said Jensen knows how to flat-out coach, knowing when to push the right buttons, motivating the players to play for each other and making adjustments on the fly. Bowers has matured since enrolling at Gavilan, and he credits the talks with Jensen for guiding him in the right direction.

“I was letting my outside life get to me on the basketball floor, and letting it affect the team and my relationships,” he said. “He showed me when it comes to basketball, you have to leave everything outside of the gym once it’s time to practice or play.”

Bowers possesses plenty of athleticism, and gets most of his points near the rim, whether it’s dunks or putbacks. His biggest role, however, is the tough defense he plays against wings and post players.

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