One could call the Santa Cruz Warriors’ 2017-18 season a disappointment. The team failed to make the playoffs, after a very un-Warrior-like 23-27 record.
But the team has started off on the right foot this time around, after a 118-108 win in its first match of the season, an away game against the Northern Arizona Suns on Saturday, Nov. 3. Returning guard Damion Lee led the way with 26 points and three steals. The team’s first home game is Wednesday, Nov. 7, when Santa Cruz hosts the Stockton Kings at the Kaiser Permanente Arena.
“Last year was tough,” Santa Cruz Warriors general manager Kent Lacob says. “It was a great learning experience for us. There were a lot of ups and downs.”
Lacob, the son of the Warriors organization’s majority owner Joe Lacob, is in his third season as Santa Cruz’s GM, and he’s used to winning, having coordinated basketball operations for the Golden State Warriors, the Santa Cruz team’s NBA affiliate, during an epic 73-win season in 2015-2016.
“We had a lot of success in terms of helping players reach their goals last year. We had four players called up to the NBA: Antonius Cleveland, Georges Niang, Damion Lee and Quinn Cook. But in losing a lot of players, it was tough to maintain team continuity,” Lacob explains.
The goal this time is to win the championship, something the Santa Cruz Warriors last did four seasons ago in 2015. In six seasons here, last year was only the second in which the local Warriors failed to get to the playoffs. The team made it to the finals in each of its first three seasons in Santa Cruz.
The team currently has two players on two-way contracts who will split their time between Santa Cruz and Golden State—both of them guards. The first is Lee, who happens to be the brother-in-law of Golden State’s two-time NBA MVP Stephen Curry, and the other is Marcus Derrickson.
“This year is different, and we are better prepared to balance player development and winning. This can be a special year for us,” Lacob says.
In his second season with Santa Cruz, Head Coach Aaron Miles wants to establish a culture of winning and give players the opportunity to learn, grow and get called up to the NBA.
Before starting his coaching career last year, Miles played ball himself—carrying Kansas to two consecutive final four appearances, briefly playing for the Golden State Warriors in 2006 and playing overseas in Russia, France, Spain, and Greece.
There’s a sense of pride and swagger that comes with being a part of the Warriors organization. Players want to fit into the dynasty that is Golden State, where they could get assigned at a moment’s notice. While Miles hopes that all of his players get to follow in his footsteps and play in the NBA, he says that “In reality, that is probably not going to happen.”
Shooting guard Will Cherry, who already has some NBA experience, grew up in Oakland. He says that getting to play for the Golden State Warriors would be a dream come true. “Everyone wants to play for their home team and represent the city they grew up in,” he says.
Cherry says he’s ready. “I do think I’m going to get called up, man,” he says. “But once the season starts, I can’t control whether they call me up or not. I keep working hard. The grind never stops.”
Leadership is already a skill at his disposal. In addition to briefly playing for the Cleveland Cavaliers, Cherry spent time playing for clubs in Lithuania, Germany, Turkey, and Croatia. Each team asked him to lead offensively and defensively, he says, expecting him to rack up assists and make sure his teammates were in the right spots.
“It’s easy to be a leader when things are good,” Cherry says. “A man’s true character is how he responds when things are going bad.”
Cherry’s personal goal is to be a better defender. The 2018-19 Sea Dubs should be a defensively minded ball club, concentrating on defensive efficiency, forcing turnovers, and grabbing defensive rebounds.
They are few familiar faces on this year’s manifestation of the Santa Cruz Warriors. A large number of players have only just arrived in Santa Cruz and are trying to get used to the area—and each other. The club has been doing team activities together to build comradery and enhance cohesion on and off the court. Players have explored downtown, gone bowling, and enjoyed the Boardwalk. Each player is provided his own room at the Hyatt Place for the duration of the season.
Joe Lacob’s decision to purchase the Dakota Wizards in 2011 and move the team to Santa Cruz has worked out. Having a development team less than a 100 miles from its parent club benefits everyone.
“The vibe is so unique here, and the city has embraced basketball and the Warriors in such a great way,” says Kent Lacob. “Being at Kaiser Permanente on game day is such a spectacular experience. We feel the love from the community on a daily basis.”
The Santa Cruz Warriors play their home opener against the Stockton Kings at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 7, at Kaiser Permanente Arena in downtown Santa Cruz. For ticket information, visit santacruz.gleague.nba.com.