By Kyle Foster
Twitter: @NapaKyle @NapaSportsLive
Playing junior college sports is a good stepping stone to playing at a higher level some day. That’s the case for Sasha French, who signed his National Letter of Intent Thursday to go to the University at Albany-New York to play basketball.
“We play a schedule that other people want to come see who we’re playing, so they’re going to want to come see us, and we played the number one team in the state of California, the state champion game number one, so we play in these events and people can’t just put their head in the sand and think anymore that people have to actually drive to Napa Valley to watch Napa Valley College — no we’re going to where the scouts are for them to be seen, so if you have the talent like Sasha does and like a handful of our other players do you’re going to be there, you’re going to be measured by scouting services that sell their service to everybody in the country, so that’s what happened with Sasha at Albany. I believe they saw him in one of the scouting services that the guy just raved about him because he saw Sasha play in our September tournament and then he also saw him play in our November tournament — he saw the growth and he saw what he was capable of doing and he writes a report that goes out to every division one, division two school in the country,” Napa Valley College coach Steve Ball said of the tough schedule his team plays each preseason. “As far as California Junior College basketball goes you’re nut just being seen by your small community anymore with the advancements in social media, your name and your games are being seen by everyone all over the country and perhaps all over the world.”
This past season French averaged 13.2 points per game, 7.9 rebounds, and 1.9 blocks a game. He was named to the All-Bay Valley Conference first-team as well. He also shot 50.7% from the floor including 31.6% from the three-point line, and 74.4% from the free throw line.
“It’s funny because people look at his rebounding and go ‘oh he only averaged eight’, well we also had a point guard that averaged seven, we had another forward that averaged seven, we had another guard that averaged six, so there’s a lot of good rebounders on this team — it wasn’t one guy getting all the rebounds, it was a group effort as you really want it to be as a coach on the glass.”
He helped lead the Storm to a 16-11 overall record with a 12-4 mark in the Bay Valley Conference.
“His role on the basketball court really played an instrumental role in that,” Ball explained of how French was a big part of one of the best seasons in school history. “We do have some really good players, but the old adage in you’re kinda like a donut, you’ve got a great surrounding, but nothing in the middle, so Sasha defensively changed so many shots and rebounded the ball defensively — he was a huge presents inside and as he grew and learned how to use that length we started to flourish.”
French is also a 2015 Justin-Siena graduate. During the 2013-14 season at Justin-Siena French averaged 6.7 PPG with 7.5 RPG. In the 2014-15 school year, his senior year, he played for Prolific Prep, a local prep academy based in Napa, which was in its first year at the time.
“Obviously coach Doherty, and coach (Jeremy) Rusotti, and coach (Billy) McKnight, and I have a good relationship,” said Ball on the fact French played for Napa-based Prolific Prep who plays a national schedule. “I think it’s really cool that this is a step that will open the eyes to some of their players to say hey ‘if I don’t get the offer that I’m interested in now this could be another option where I can stay locally’. Obviously Sasha had a previous connection to the valley, he grew up here, but that could be another avenue for their players from their program to get to what they want.”
He had a host of other four-year universities looking at him besides Albany. New Mexico State, Montana, Montana State, Utah State, University of Portland, Loyola Marymount-Los Angeles, Pepperdine-Malibu, California State University Northridge, and Sacramento State were others interested in the 6-foot-11 center.
When French gets to the University of Albany he’ll enter his sophomore season. Last season the Great Danes went 22-10 and 10-6 to earn the fourth seed in the America East Conference Tournament. In the tournament Albany lost 69-60 to Stony Brook. University of Maryland Baltimore County won the tournament and defeated overall number one seed Virginia 74-54 before losing in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
“That was definitely a big factor for me since any kid was starting out playing basketball their dream was to go to the NCAA tournament,” French said of the opportunity to play against traditional NCAA basketball powers like Virginia, Kansas, Duke, North Carolina, and Villanova. “You see all these guys the amount of prestige that comes behind it, I think that was definitely a big factor for me get a opportunity to play in that and be an underdog and beat some big guys, so it’ll be fun.”
French took 22 units at NVC in the fall and earned a 3.8 GPA. He is currently taking 26 units in the current spring 2018 semester at Napa Valley College. He plans to major in business at Albany.