By Travis Souders
The first California Collegiate Athletic Association championship banner in men's basketball came to Chico State thanks in large part to conference MVP Jay Flores.
Flores came to Chico State thanks in large part to then-assistant coach Gus Argenal.
Now, both former Wildcats have taken their basketball knowledge to Cal State East Bay in Hayward, in hopes of leading yet another CCAA program to new heights.
Argenal, named the Pioneers' men's basketball coach in late May, added Flores, the Wildcats' on-floor leader two years ago in their storybook first-place season, as an assistant, putting two well-loved Chico State products back in the conference and making for an intriguing dynamic, potentially for years to come.
"I knew at Chico that this is where I wanted to be a coach, in the CCAA," said Argenal, who most recently was an assistant with Texas' Division I Rice. "It fits who I am, all the things I like about college basketball, and for my family it was a perfect fit."
Argenal, the brother of former Wildcat great Justin Argenal, is from Lafayette. A former player for Chico State coach Greg Clink at UC Davis, Gus Argenal's coaching career includes three years as an assistant at Chico State, a grad assistant season at Arizona State, two stints as an assistant at Davis and two seasons at University of Texas-San Antonio.
At the end of day, Argenal found his home to be the CCAA and the Bay Area, making the East Bay quite the attractive destination for him.
"To have a chance to be home, with the potential in this program and the vision we have for it here, it's perfect," he said. "I have a lot of love for this league and this area and it's been awesome so far."
Argenal's history with Clink should make for quite an interesting development as the two coaches continue to build their programs. The two are tight friends, whose children and wives are close as well.
"He's one of my best friends. I love the guy and I'm really excited for him," Clink said. "When you're coaching against your really good friends, it's hard at times because you obviously are there to win and want to do well, but at the same time you want to see your friends do well and have success. We'll have fun competing against each other."
In many ways, Chico State is the model for upstart teams in the conference since Clink resurrected a downtrodden program into a champion. Argenal sees his former employer as the mold to follow, too. The Wildcats, under Clink, have looked at perennially successful programs like Cal Poly Pomona and Humboldt State and tried to figure ways to emulate them; East Bay might take on a strategy very familiar to Chico State fans, and soon.
"In some ways, our program will try to do what Chico's done," Argenal said. "We'll try to emulate that and aspire to be a consistent competitor. We want to get started as soon as we can on our next recruiting class and make a splash. For us, we're trying to keep up with the Wildcats."
Meanwhile, the feeling of sitting on the opposing bench won't be brand new, at least for Flores. After all his success at Chico State, it's easy to forget that he was part of the rival Sonoma State program his freshman year before Argenal helped the Wildcats pluck him away in a transfer. Coaches and players alike know Flores, the former point guard who personified the CCAA champions with his MVP season, has leadership and basketball savvy to spare. He just hopes he can help Argenal complete the task of building an up-and-comer into a competitor, much like they did at Chico State.
"I honestly believe that us being so bad there before what I was able to be a part of my senior year made it that much sweeter," Flores said. "We were winning less than 10 games a season, and you know the winning culture is a direct product of everyone involved in the program. Me and Coach Argenal, we know what we want to do and we've done it in this league, and that's big."
All told, it should make for an entertaining first season for Argenal and Flores at Cal State East Bay, and perhaps the start of a fun new rivalry in the CCAA.
"I've gotten a lot of great supportive feedback from Chico, which really isn't a surprise at all," Flores said. "People are telling me, 'I hope you guys win every game on your schedule — except the two against Chico State.'"