In the most exciting moment Pomona-Pitzer sports has witnessed this year, first-year Jack Klukas PO ’15 hit a three-point shot with six seconds on the clock to tie the game against CMS 55-55. It was picturesque, perfect. Rains has never been louder, not even when the football team stripped down for artistic appeal. And then, it was silent. Well, half the gym was silent while the other half roared even louder as CMS guard Remy Pinson CM ’14 charged down the court in the last five seconds and put up a minimally contested layup to put the Stags ahead and leave the Sagehens with their first SCIAC loss.
Now sporting a 6-2 record and tied for second in the league, the Pomona-Pitzer men’s basketball is in the best position they’ve been in for years. The players are more talented, harder working, and more energetic than they’ve been since the Popovich era. They are the team to be on campus, the only team with consistent fans, and the team right now with the best shot at a SCIAC title. But the worst part is? They should be 8-0. As talented as they are, they have suffered their two losses because of mental mistakes. It is hard to blame them though, when their five best players are all underclassmen: two sophomores and three first-years.
After leading for most of the game against CMS, the Sagehens faltered in their shooting, letting a dangerous opponent back into the game—a mistake they would regret soon enough. With all the poise of five seniors, they ran the inbound play to get the ball to Klukas and, remaining calm under the pressure, he nailed the trey. Whether it was excitement, confusion, or lack of focus, they allowed Pinson to run the floor without facing a single hedge and let him drive for the layup that wasn’t nearly as contested as they would have liked.
Professional commentators call this growing pains—the period of time in which players are talented and motivated enough to earn these kind of clutch situations and not quite mentally mature enough to close them out.
The guys rebounded, though, taking down top-ranked Whittier four days later, only to fall in the subsequent game against Oxy. Despite a score line of 64-56, Pomona-Pitzer never had a chance. You never will when you shoot 1-22 from inside the arc in the first half. The loss knocked them from their first-place perch, falling to second in the conference.
To succeed at this level, you need a certain degree of amnesia, an ability to forget whatever just happened and move on to the next shot, the next play. That has turned into an ongoing issue as the shooting woes continued against Caltech in the first half Wednesday, where they fell behind to a team that just recently broke their 300-game losing streak.
Still this team has the potential to be good. Not Pomona-Pitzer good, not SCIAC good, but actually good. They are growing. And once they grow into their roles, they will not only take SCIAC, they will make a run at the NCAA tournament. The big three of Klukas, Jake Klewer PO ’14, and John Weiss PO ’14 have put up over 26 points and 15 boards per game, proving absolute size is not the key in winning a game.
Complemented by guards Michael Cohen PO ’15 and Kyle McAndrews PO ’15, the team adds the speed, driving ability, and three-point shooting that has turned last season’s lackluster offense into one of the most dynamic forces in the league.
As these five grow and mature this season, they will encounter speed bumps along the way. They will shoot poorly and not recover, and they will give up buzzer beaters to rival schools. (Granted, CMS’s record has been called into question after the revelation that the athletic director falsified the players official weights by ten pounds on average.) But in all seriousness, take a look at these guys the next time you find yourself in Rains. They are not just the future of Sagehen Basketball—they are the future of Pomona-Pitzer athletics.