Isaiah Cavaco does not like to look too far beyond his next challenge, which is tonight against Swarthmore College in Philadelphia. But Cavaco, the first-year Oberlin College coach, understands that he has to a lot more to do than win basketball games. He is in charge of bringing a sense of credibility to the Yeomen program.
It`s about as daunting a coaching task as any in the country. Oberlin hasn`t tasted a winning season since 1991. There haven`t been consecutive winning seasons in over 30 years - since 1974 and 1975. Since 1999, the Yeomen have lost 20 or more games five times and been held to three or fewer victories four times.
"I know this has never been a place that has been able to sustain any kind of legacy," said Cavaco, who was named head coach this past spring after serving as interim coach last year and as an assistant the previous two seasons. "The only legacy that I know that needs to be changed is this program being viewed as some kind of glorified intramural. That`s going to change. There`s a certain level of commitment that`s going to be in place."
In many ways, the 2006-07 season was one of transition at Oberlin. Cavaco had yet to be named the coach on a permanent basis and many of the players were in their first years with the team.
Much of that will change this season.
"Just like anything else, your first go-round is about shifting on the fly," said Cavaco. "I know for me, I found out a lot about myself as a coach - what it is that I actually want."
What Cavaco envisions is an aggressive, athletic, tightly-woven group with four-to-five weapons capable of leading the team offensively on any given night.
Leading the way for the Yeomen will be junior swingman Mike Loll, who led the team in scoring a year ago with 15.8 points per game (seventh-best in the North Coast Athletic Conference) and 7.1 rebounds per game and senior guard Jordan Beard, who averaged 13.1 points, while leading the NCAC in free throw percentage (88.9 percent) and was sixth in 3-point percentage
Last year, the trio of Loll, Beard and since-graduated Quinton Spencer formed a powerful scoring tandem - but the Yeomen still finished last in the league in scoring at 63.6 ppg.
"The one thing that hurt us last year was that on any given possession, you knew some combination of Quinton, (Loll) or Beard was going to get the shot," said Cavaco. "We were too predictable and easy to guard."
The Yeomen are composed of a largely inexperienced roster. Of the 12 players signed on for 2007, seven are either freshmen or sophomores. Only two - Beard and senior guard Matt Godwin - are seniors.
Maybe the leap came too suddenly, too soon. Christa Champion was only in her second year as head coach at Oberlin College when she led a team composed only seven varsity players to 10 victories in 2004.
Champion was sure it was a harbinger of things to come. Instead, it was only a fleeting moment, soon followed by 39 losses in two seasons.
Champion said the problem was her approach to recruiting - signing the wrong kinds of players.
"It took me a while to learn how to recruit for Oberlin, as opposed to another high academic school," said Champion. "I had to learn my lessons. It wasn`t about recruiting kids that couldn`t do the work. It was about recruiting kids that are going to stay with basketball."
Champion believes she`s finally collected the right pieces to form a long-term puzzle. Oberlin returns 11 members of last year`s roster, plus an influx of talented newcomers that have the Yeowomen in position to climb out of the North Coast Athletic Conference cellar.
Oberlin, which kicks off its season tonight against Hope at the Hope Tipoff Tournament in Holland, Mich., labored through a brutal 2006 season going 3-13 in conference play and 7-19 overall. The Yeowomen were among the worst in the league in scoring defense, giving up 68.9 points per game, scoring margin, turnover margin and assist-to-turnover ratio (162 assists to 366 turnovers).
Oberlin will rely heavily on junior guard Alyssa Clark to provide the bulk the scoring responsibilities. Clark was a force her freshman year, averaging 18.6 points per game, but saw that total mysteriously drop to 11.7 as a sophomore.
Clark is one half of an explosive backcourt with sophomore guard Monica Zell, who led the conference a year ago and broke the school single-season record for 3-point percentage by hitting 43.1-percent of shots from beyond the arc, while averaging 7.8 ppg.
No one suggested the turnaround at Oberlin would come overnight. Instead, it`s taken small steps. And Champion believes her team is now ready.
Contact Pete Alpern at 329-7137 or email@example.com.