12-year drought: Yavapai College basketball teams finish first seasons since programs cut

The Yavapai College men’s basketball team huddles around coach Jay Joyner. The players have had to rely on each other in a season that saw basketball back at the school for first time since 2011. (Photo courtesy of Chris Henstra/Yavapai Athletics)

PHOENIX – Although both teams ended their seasons Tuesday night with losing records, the men’s and women’s basketball teams at Prescott’s Yavapai College felt grateful.

Grateful they had a season at all.

“The community was clamoring for it and we’re just excited to bring basketball back,” said athletic director Brad Clifford, who previously played and coached for the Roughriders.

The men’s team finished 7-23 after a loss to Phoenix College, recording an 11th-place finish in the Arizona Community College Athletics Conference. The women went 11-17, and finished in eighth.

State budget cuts led to the elimination of both programs in February of 2011. Initially all head coaches at the school were informed they would have to reduce budgets for their teams by 10%. Days later, the basketball teams learned the college had cut their programs.

That’s why women’s coach Gerrard Carmichael and men’s coach Jay Joyner weren’t too bothered by their teams’ records this season. Improving day by day and developing a culture were the priorities, they said.

“Although our record doesn’t show it, we are trending in the right direction,” Carmichael said. “We’ve got a few players that are leading in a lot of the conference categories and it’s good to see them up there.”

Keyla Cervantes, a freshman on the Yavapai College women’s basketball team, runs onto the court before a recent game. (Photo courtesy of Chris Henstra/Yavapai Athletics)

Keyla Cervantes, a freshman on the YavapaiCollege women’s basketball team, runs onto the court before a recent game. (Photo courtesy of Chris Henstra/Yavapai Athletics)

Guard Saydee Allred led the league in 3-point field goals for the women’s team at 40.6%, and teammate Kishyah Anderson finished second in the league in points per game, averaging 16.6 points.

The men’s team has no leaders in individual statistics, but Joyner said that was somewhat expected. He acknowledged the team is going through “growing pains” but believes fans shouldn’t worry. With a new team, bumps in the road are common.

Although both coaches are hopeful for the future, neither had the experience of building a program from the ground up. Joyner and Carmichael have led the rebuilding of struggling teams in their careers, but said the chance to create a culture and be a part of history attracted them to Yavapai.

“It’s an exciting opportunity because you have the opportunity to mold the program into what you want it to be as opposed to following in someone else’s footsteps,” Joyner said.

Although this experience is new to both coaches, it’s not for Clifford. Over the last three years, including the two basketball teams, Yavapai has introduced four new programs, with soccer and eports added in the last couple of years. Clifford was the women’s basketball coach when that program was cut in 2011.

He said each program presented a different set of challenges, but reintroducing basketball was a passion project for him and an anonymous donor, who made it possible to bring back the teams.

“We had an incredible donor that came in and said, ‘I want to have basketball back,’” Clifford said.

With the donation and a gym ready for action, plans were set, and in November of 2021, Yavapai started to staff and rebuild its basketball programs. The process included finding coaches, gathering equipment and petitioning the ACCAC and Junior College Athletic Association.

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For now, the donation is enough to fund the programs, but Clifford said in the future, both teams will need to fundraise if they want to continue playing and recruiting.

One of the first challenges this season was recruiting, which Carmichael said was not easy without culture or older players on the roster.

“We had to really turn over every rock to find some talented players,” Carmichael said. “But next year, we’ll have a good group of sophomores to guide the incoming freshmen … and we’re going to be a lot better off for it.”

With playoffs out of the question, sights are already set on next season, with players, coaches and Clifford hopeful things will start to turn around.

“I’m looking forward to … building on what we’ve done this year,” said Evan Joyner, a freshman forward and the son of the coach.

Jay Joyner said, “As a coach, I want to be able to evaluate the program and say, ‘All right, the program was better than it was in previous seasons.’”

Clifford loves the trajectory of the teams.

“I think we’re moving upwards,” Clifford said. “Next year, I think we’re going to be a force to be reckoned with.”

Haley Smilow HAIL-ee SMI-low (she/her/hers)
Sports Broadcast Reporter, Phoenix

Haley Smilow expects to graduate in May 2023 with a bachelor’s degree in sports journalism. Smilow, who is currently covering sports in Phoenix, is also interning with the Diamondbacks and has previously interned at the Phoenix Magazine, AZTV and Phoenix Rising.