POULTNEY, Vt. – Close to 3,000 miles away on the west coast of California, if you stopped 1,000 people on the street and asked them if they had ever heard of Green Mountain College, a small private liberal arts college in Poultney, Vermont, one of them might say they had heard of it before. In fact, if you asked the same cohort of people if they know where Vermont was perhaps several more may acknowledge that it is located on the East Coast. That isn't meant to single out Californians as there is a similar low percentage of people from some states on the east coast who would have trouble pinpointing Vermont's exact location.
Well, as of September 1st, the number of Californians able to answer the first question had grown by at least four people as the Green Mountain College men's basketball team boasts four players from a trio of areas in the southern part of the state.
De Shaun Carr (Moreno Valley, Calif.), Sean Leflore (Moreno Valley, Calif.), Jacob Plum (San Diego, Calif.) and Alejandro Sanchez (San Fernando Valley, Calif.) share more in common than just being from the same sunny state of California. All four young men come from within 140 miles of each other and arrive at Green Mountain having graduated from their respective junior college programs which all competed in the California Community College Athletic Association (CCCAA).
Despite all of them having different intentions initially following their JUCO careers, they also share that they ultimately arrived at Green Mountain due to the GMC coach's desire to have them here.
Carr explained his recruiting process in very plain terms.
"[Coach Davis] really wanted me to be here," said Carr. "He called me every Friday night to check in and see how I was doing."
All of the other's stories about their recruitment to GMC followed a similar path. Coach Davis genuinely cared about them as people and basketball players and developed a great relationship through the entire process.
"[Coach] showed the most interest, always calling and texting me showing how much he was really invested and supportive of me," relayed Sanchez. "It helped to put a face with a name when he came out to California for a visit."
"Coach Davis was the first to contact me after my season and stayed in contact throughout the process while holding me accountable for things I told him I was going to do," iterated Leflore. "He really demonstrated a high level of trust and showed that he cared."
With only three returners from last year's team Davis and his staff obviously had a lot of work to do on the recruiting front, but with a busy recruiting calendar over the past year the reward was a large incoming class of 14 players.
"We are really excited about our freshman class this year as we were able to bring in nine high character guys that are a great fit at GMC and can really play," said Davis. "With that being said, we are extremely young this year and needed to bring in some guys that had experience playing at and having success at a really high level."
But why choose to recruit in California, a locale so remote from the GMC campus? The answer was twofold; a good match both academically and athletically according to Davis.
"Green Mountain as a whole has been very attractive to prospective students from California as our core values in Sustainability and the environment match up really well with what a lot of west coast students are looking for in a college," related Davis. "Also, from my time coaching junior college basketball for three years, I was able to develop some great relationships with junior college coaches in that area which helped us to identify guys that were a great fit for our College and our program."
Travelling such a distance from home had the potential to create hardships during the transition period, but all four Californians agreed that the transition to GMC and Vermont has been fairly seamless. A large part of that ease of transition is due to the players' openness to a completely new experience.
Of all the opportunities in front of Plum when he was making a decision about where to continue his education, coming over to the East Coast held the most appeal. He used the opportunity to travel from coast to coast in his Mitsubishi Mirage taking in the sites and enjoying the different subcultures of America along the way.
Carr indicated that he was ready to try something new as he had never been to the East Coast nor experienced snow like what is reported in Vermont as California essentially only has one season.
Leflore admitted that while his mom wasn't exactly thrilled to have her son so far from home, he envisioned himself going to school on the East Coast to gain a different perspective while Sanchez was encouraged by his former JUCO coach to try something new and experience a different culture.
Another reason that the transition was so fluid was the change in environment of going to school at a residential school in a small community versus commuting to a community college in a bustling metropolis. Each player indicated that they commuted and worked a job while going to school and playing basketball in California.
"Life is much simpler here," noted Plum. "Everything here is all in one spot. I have the time to be much more focused on school and basketball without all of the other responsibilities that I had in California."
The entire group nodded in agreement to Plum's statement.
Despite the ease of living and studying in a new environment, there are still parts of life to which the players are becoming accustomed. The biggest adjustment the group all agreed upon was to the food and the weather.
"Anything you're craving you can get in California at any time without going too far away," said Carr.
Finding some of the different varieties of food has been one of the bigger challenges living in Poultney.
Leflore commented on the need for an expanded wardrobe living in Vermont due to the constant change in temperature compared to the consistent dry heat of California.
"It is hard to adjust to the temperature changes," said Leflore. "The nights get so cold here; you really need to be thinking of having different clothes for different parts of the day."
Along with the more extreme change in temperature during the fall comes one of Vermont's signature experiences; the changing of the leaves. For all of the players this autumn was the first time they had witnessed fall colors with the trees native to Vermont and New England.
Now that the calendar has turned and basketball preseason is underway, the players have fallen into a familiar routine with basketball practice. Although early in the preseason, the players' expectations for the season were made quite clear.
"We expect to be good," indicated Leflore. "[This is a] good group of guys, a good mix of young talent along with the experience of us upperclassmen. We are just trying to win. California competition is tough and that gives us an upper hand. We are here with that experience to [help] show the younger guys how to do things the right way."
Having won back-to-back Western State Conference South championships, Leflore has a keen sense of what it takes to be successful.
Carr agrees that this 2017-18 Green Mountain team could accomplish some lofty goals.
"Our team chemistry is high considering all of the new players here this year," said Carr. Coach [Davis] brought us all here because he wanted us to be here."
Carr is referring to the fact that there are just three returners to the roster from last year's squad and 14 new faces. While the quartet of Californians has come a long way, the player coming from the furthest distance is actually a freshman from Australia. Other new incoming players have been drawn from all over the country represented by the states of Maryland, Michigan, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, and Vermont.
"All of us were handpicked so we feel we are highly invested in our own success," continued Carr. "This feels like it could be something special."
If the team achieves the type of success it has its goals set on in 2017-18, then there may just be a few more folks over in California who will have heard of Vermont and Green Mountain College.