WAR MEMORIAL GYM — As Khalil Shabazz backed his way up the court, he windmilled his right arm backwards, and put one finger in the air.
Playing in his first game in 613 days, the San Francisco sophomore had just hit his fifth 3-pointer of the night with two minutes left in a 101-50 win over an over-matched Sonoma State. “It was just me, letting all my emotion out,” he said.
Rookie head coach Todd Golden — who helped develop the Central Washington transfer over the last year — didn’t show any emotion during his first career win. Charles Minlend hit his career average, Jamaree Bouyea ran the point and Jimbo Lull banged inside. The Dons did what a good, 20-win-a-year Division I team should do against a Division II opponent.
“There’s a lot we can still learn from this game,” said Shabbaz, who finished with a team-high-tying 15 points, matching redshirt junior Charles Minlend.
San Francisco (1-0) shot just 46.6% from the field (34-for-73) and a middling 31.8% from 3-point range (including a dreadful 1-for-9 from sniper Jordan Ratinho) and turned the ball over 13 times and dished out just 19 assists. The offense is still a work in progress without graduated point guard Frankie Ferrari, even though there was a white Ferrari sportscar parked atop the steps to the Sobrato Center.
“We played around Frankie so much offensively,” Golden said. “We played with the ball in his hands, so you saw a team last year that played a lot of pick-and-roll, whereas Jamaree Bouyea, he’s more of a transition player. We want to get him out. He’s super unselfish, always makes the right play.”
Bouyea was responsible for most of the Dons’ 14 points in transition, finishing with a team-high four assists and two steals. While a quiet role player last year, Bouyea has come out of his shell, and darted in and out of San Francisco’s locker room postgame to slap Shabazz on his hindquarters while calling him a monster.
After taking the job on April 1, Golden held one-on-one meetings with each player. In his meeting with Shabazz, who left Central Washington in June of 2018 to bet on himself at a more high-profile program, Golden told him not to take a back seat, and to embrace his role.
Shabazz sought out tutelage from Bouyea during his NCAA-mandated transfer redshirt year.
“He was kind of in the position that I am right now last year, so I just pick his brain sometimes, whether we’re in the locker room or just hanging out,” Shabazz said. “I just picked his brain, saw what it was like being the sixth man and taking this role on and embracing it.”
With Bouyea now starting at the point, Shabazz has taken over the sixth-man role, and played it to perfection, giving the Dons energy off the bench, going 5-of-10 from 3-point range with three assists and seven rebounds.
“Khalil’s a phenomenal player,” Golden said, with his son Jacob tugging at his coat tails. “We could start him, and he’d be just fine. He’s really, really impactful. I’ve talked to him before, in front of the team, and said, ‘When he comes in, he’s going to change the game every night.’
“He’s a great full-court defender, he does a great job, just kind of bothers the ball handler, affecting the way they start their offense, and he obviously can shoot the ball really well. He’s kind of a quick-twitch scorer, does a great job getting a shot off.”
As the offense comes into its own, the defense — as should be expected from a team under a former defensive coordinator — was the the focus, particularly on rebounding. It’s why Golden went with freshman Josh Kunen as the starting power forward.
Though Kunen didn’t score until two minutes into the second half, he finished with three assists, two steals and seven rebounds while scoring nine points.
The Dons racked up 19 offensive rebounds en route to out-boarding the Seawolves (0-1) 52 to 23, forced 18 turnovers (scoring 18 points) and racked up 23 second-chance points. Defensively, they held Sonoma State to 36.8% shooting.
While Golden maintained a calm exterior during the game, as soon as he came out of the locker room and into a low, concrete basement hallway in its aftermath, he high-fived and hugged his staff.
“I kind of talked to myself before the game,” he said. “I wanted to make sure I was cool, calm and composed, provide a good example for our guys, but it was surreal out there, man. It was fun. I thought we were really prepared.”
“Our staff has worked so diligently to kind of get this thing — to keep this thing — going as it was, starting with last spring. Mamadou Ndiaye and Vinnie McGhee have been great additions to our group. Jason Greenfield, as well. And then, the rest of the guys who I was able to retain, they just take such pride in making sure this program continues to go in the right way. Honestly, I’m happy for them to be a part of this.”
As he scampered back into the locker room, Bouyea shouted, “Golden Era, baby!”