By Rahsaan Thomas
On an chilly overcast day, 33 men tried out for the San Quentin Warriors, and none of them were cut from the team.
“I love that a lot of people come to try out,” veteran Warrior Montrell “Mad Defense” Vines said. “I ain’t seen this in three years.”
Head Coach Rafael Cuevas and his staff ranked the players from one to 33. The first 12 players made the active roster. The next five made the practice team, and the rest comprised a farm club where they can work on fundamentals, improve and move up in ranking, possibly taking a spot on the active list.
“I’m going to work with whoever stays dedicated to making this team the best it can be,” Cuevas said.
Tryout ages ranged from 18 to 50, including veteran players and a large group of youngsters who arrived at San Quentin to start serving their time at a lower-level prison. Many veterans said it was the largest group of players to try out for the team.
“This forces the veteran players to step their game up because the younger players are hungry,” said lead Assistant Coach Aaron “Harun” Taylor.
Months before tryouts, Isaiah “Zay” Bandz, 19, could be found practicing layups or running laps in the rain.
“It comes from always playing people older than me and bigger than me,” Bandz said. “I always had to work harder.”
Bandz said he played for Berkeley High School in the AAU League. “Making the Warriors would be a dream come true,” he said. “I grew up in the Bay Area watching the Golden State Warriors. It would be a lifetime experience to play against them.”
According to Coach Cuevas, Bandz would have made the Warriors, but was scheduled to be released.
Tryouts consisted of full-court scrimmage games.
Among the standouts was D’Romeo Allen, 20. He learned how to play basketball in the streets and sees making the team as rehabilitative.
“I’m going to work with whoever stays dedicated to making this team the best it can be”
“It would give me something to do that takes me away from being in prison,” Allen said. “It would give me a sense of purpose.”
After seeing Allen’s performance, former Warrior Brad Shell, said, “Romeo did his thing. He might have stolen himself a spot.”
Veteran player Greg Eskridge came to tryouts after taking a few years off from playing for the Warriors.
“I’m trying to see how much I have left in the tank,” Eskridge said. “I’ll let them do all the fancy stuff, and I’ll do all the thinking. That might be a recipe for success.”
Another newcomer who stood out was Cornell Shields, 30. He said he used to play with NBA Portland Trailblazers Damien Lillard in their Brookfield neighborhood.
“He taught me a lot of things,” Shields said. “I learned how to score and got a lot of my heart and intensity from him.”
The added competition and availability of so much talent had an effect on the tryouts.
“Ain’t anybody guaranteed a spot,” Vines said. “Ain’t any stars. We have to come out here and get it.”
During the scrimmage games, veteran Tevin Fournette initiated the new recruits, going strong to the rack and dunking.
“I always want to encourage the younger players to come play,” Fournette said. “They encourage me to go harder and play better.”
Juanaeh Newton, 21, at 5-foot-3, scored six points in the paint, including a strong layup in the chest of a taller defender that evoked cheers from the sidelines. He says he used to play for the Oakland Tech Bulldogs.
“It would mean a lot to me to make the Warriors,” Newton said. “I would bring teamwork.”
Newton showed up late for tryouts. Afterward, Coach Cuevas told him, “You did good, but I didn’t get to see enough of you. Keep coming out.”
The top 21 Warriors are: 1. Allan McIntosh, 2. Andre Belion, 3. D’Romeo Allen, 4. Tevin Fornette, 5. Harry “ATL”Smith, 6. Marvin Cosby, 7. Jason Robinson, 8. Anthony Ammons, 9. Jason Jones, 10. Jonathan Cannnon, 11. Lanzelle Green, 12. David Lee, 13. Donte Smith, 14. Aaron Sanders, 15. Brad Shells, 16. Cornell Shields, 17. Wilson Nguyen, 18. Montell “MD” Vines, 19. Deontae King, 20. Charles “Pookie” Sylvester and 21. Trevor Bird.