New coach, new team take Cal State Dominguez Hills into a new era

Coach John Bonner coaches the season opener. Photo courtesy of Toro Athletics.
Coach John Bonner coaches the season opener. Photo courtesy of Toro Athletics.

It is an understatement to say that this past offseason for Cal State Dominguez Hills basketball was one to remember.

First, five-year head coach Molly Goodenbour was offered the head coaching job at the University of San Francisco at the end of the 2016-2017 season, and assistant coach Janelle Jones was promoted to head coach of the Toros. After a few months, Jones then joined Goodenbour’s as associate head coach for the Dons. Dominguez’s new assistant coach John Bonner was named interim head coach of the program, and then head coach.

So not only does Bonner have a new job, but he has 11 new players, four returners, and a team that had to make a quick turnaround in a short period of time.

“Initially it caught [the team] off guard,” he said. “To go from ‘hey we really don’t know him’ to ‘this is who we’re here to play for’ was difficult,” Bonner said.

Bonner believes that character is the most important aspect of a team, and he counts forming complete student athletes as his overall goal. After that, the focus is on academics, because while a basketball career may come and go, Bonner believes an education lasts forever.

Lastly, his goal is push each player to reach their full potential as athletes.

Bonner’s aim is “to create an environment where each individual involved in our program has an opportunity to develop their gifts as an athlete and to have a holistic college experience and transformation, by exposing them to various methods of growth physically, emotionally, and spiritually.”

He began building his program by hiring Krystle Evans as an assistant coach and keeping assistant Jaleesa Ross. Both bring a level of competitive spirit and experience to the program, because each played Division I basketball and were NCAA coaches for years before joining the Toros staff.

Bonner said success starts from the inside out, and that when a new coach starts they are expected to bring success to the program within three years.

Evans characterized the Toros’ version of success as holistic.

“Success for us looks like higher graduation rates, an increase in team GPA, an increase in wins; winning the conference championship, going to the [NCAA Tournament],” she said.

Bonner expects both players and staff to have a strong work ethic.

“Embracing the concept of hard work, eliminating excuses, and avoiding shortcuts are key factors to establishing a foundation of success,” he said. “These concepts are ones that I will instill and develop in all players and staff members that are associated with our program.”

Ross said the vision encompasses life off the court, as well.

“We believe in hard work and good character,” Ross said.

Though all three coaches recognized the strength of the roster, the adjustment period was not without its bumps. Eventually, however, players warmed to him.

Sophomore guard Destinee Williams said Bonner established his expectations quickly.

“He made it clear that we had to continue working hard, if not harder,” she said. “He wanted to be a team that always got the job done.”

Imari Brown, who finished her senior season last year but remains close to the team, described Bonner’s coaching as “very technical.”

“He wants you to really work and focus on the little things, so that when it comes to the big things there aren’t any minor flaws,” Brown said. “(The team) bought into what Bonner believed, that they can achieve, and (into) what he believed the coaches could do to help develop players on and off the court.”

Nautica Morrow is Cal State Dominguez's scoring leader, averaging 17.5 points per game. Photo courtesy of Toro Athletics.
Nautica Morrow is Cal State Dominguez’s scoring leader, averaging 17.5 points per game. Photo courtesy of Toro Athletics.

Bonner appreciates his team, and called them a “blue-collared bunch.”

Each athlete is provided an environment that not only fosters support for their academic needs, but also imparts individual accountability for any deficiencies. Bonner requires bi-weekly academic meetings, where each athlete’s assignments and test scores are recorded in an individual calendar for both athletes and coaches. Each week, athletes are required to log in five hours of study hall with a coach.

While Bonner established a strong academic system within his program, he still encourages each one of his players to utilize the resources available on campus to further their academic success.

Bonner’s biggest goal for his team is for each player to grow as a person. He describes this goals as, “coaching character.” To this end, each player is required to attend a short weekly individual meeting to facilitate and support each player through emotional and psychological obstacles.

“In the beginning of the year our coaching staff was fuzzy, because we didn’t know who was going to be our coach,” Williams said. “Coach Bonner was super supportive during the whole thing. He really pushed me to reach my potential.”

The Toros, 3-3 overall, take on Point Loma tonight in San Diego.