The first thing you notice about Jake Velasco is the beard.
The thick clump of curly hair makes the Cosumnes River College sophomore look more like Paul Bunyan than a smooth-shooting, 6-foot-7 forward.
“Oh, it’s me,” said Velasco, an affable and burly 265-pounder. “My girlfriend wants me to shave it. My grandmother isn’t a big fan of it. But it’s who I am.”
He’s something of a free spirit – and an example of the benefit of community college.
Velasco played football and basketball at Pleasant Valley High School in Chico, but he wasn’t sure what he wanted to do afterward. Play offensive tackle at Butte College? Continue playing basketball? Get a full-time job?
Tony Gill , a starting forward at Pacific and a childhood friend, urged Velasco to look into CRC, Gill’s alma mater.
Velasco called Hawks coach James Giacomazzi , who said Velasco became his easiest recruit.
But Velasco first had to shed 50 pounds to survive a workout. Through rigorous conditioning and an improved diet, the weight melted off in weeks.
“The weight was hard on my back and joints,” Velasco said. “I’m such a better player now than I was before. I can actually play and move without feeling like I’m going to fall down.”
Velasco averages 16.3 points and 9.3 rebounds for the playoff-bound Hawks. He can power inside for baskets but is especially comfortable from long range.
“Jake’s such an unassuming, big kid,” Giacomazzi said. “You don’t expect that he can do what he does by looking at him, but he’s so good. If I’m a Division II program, I’m all over him. He’s our best inside player and our best shooter, and that makes him so hard to defend. And he’ll only get better.”
And the better he gets, the thicker the beard, Velasco vowed.
“He’s our throwback Bill Walton,” CRC athletic assistant Jason Neary said. “How can you not appreciate that look?”
More JC news• Yuba College, which has won eight consecutive Bay Valley Conference titles and is ranked second in Northern California, is seeded fifth in the California Community College men’s basketball playoffs that start Friday. The 49ers (21-5), led by wing Chris Smith (Center), host Cabrillo College (19-8). Seventh-seeded CRC (22-8) opens at home against No. 10 Lassen (19-13) on Friday. City College of San Francisco (27-1) is seeded first.
On the women’s side, Sierra (21-8) is the No. 4 seed and opens at home against No. 13 Ohlone (19-9) on Friday. No. 10 CRC (17-11) opens at No. 7 Solano (25-4) on Friday, and No. 18 ARC (10-16) plays at No. 15 Laney (13-13) on Wednesday in an outbracket game. San Joaquin Delta (24-5) is the No. 1 seed.
The new NorCal league will include American River, Sacramento City and Sierra, with Butte, Feather River and Siskiyous. ARC, Sac City and Sierra never have been in the same conference. Sac City dominated the region in the 1980s and half of the ’90s. Sierra ruled the 2000s, and ARC has been the power in recent years.
“This is potentially great for all of community college football,” said Mitch Campbell , the director of athletics at Sac City and president of the NCFC.
Dusty Baker will be the keynote speaker for the Positive Coaching Alliance luncheon on March 4 at the Red Lion Woodlake Hotel in Sacramento. Baker, a three-time National League Manager of the Year, is out of the game for just the third time since he was drafted by the Atlanta Braves in 1967 out of Del Campo. Baker, who will talk about how athletics molded him, said last week that sports ambition is a good thing, to a point.
“When I was at Del Campo, I played baseball and track in the spring,” Baker said. “A coach asked if I could pole vault. ‘Sure.’ I stuck that pole into the ground, got up into the air, and said, ‘Oh no!’ I held on for dear life. It was the first and last time I did that. Stick with what you can do, but do as much as you can.”
For information, go to sacramento.positivecoach.org.