When the Santa Monica College men defeated Citrus College Saturday night, 81-75, it was probably the team’s final game of the basketball season.SMC finished fourth in the Western State Conference Southern Division, not good enough for a playoff berth, barring unforseen circumstances such as ineligibiity among the league’s first, second or third place teams.“Three years ago our record would have been good enough,” said coach Trevor Shickman. “But the playoff field was cut in half for budget reasons. There’s a question whether money was really saved because the games brought in revenue. But that’s the way it is.“I’m not complaining. We knew the rules going in.”Still, Shickman and his players can wonder what might have been. They played two games against West Los Angeles College and lost both by two points. West L.A. is the conference champion.Asked about highlights of the season, Shickman praised three players, freshmen Mark Brathwaite, center Shakir Johnson and forward Rondell Eskridge.“Mark was outstanding, and he’s really just learning the point guard position,” said Shickman.Brathwaite came from Boston. He scored 30 points in a game several times and made some all-tournament teams early in the season.“Johnson had a solid season,” said Shickman of the 6-foot-9 center from L.A. Dorsey High. “This is only his third season of basketball and he keeps improving.”“He averaged nine points per game, but for most of the seasonn he wasn’t getting the ball very much. I called a team meeting and said I don’t want any shots until he touches the ball. After that he averaged 15, and he’s a big factor on defense.”It would be a great start for next season if Shickman knew that Johnson will return for his sophomore season. But it’s not certain, as nothing is on the community college level, Johnson isn’t ready for Division 1 play but likely will be with one more year at this level. Redshirting in a Division 1 program might also be a possibiity.Shickman smiled when he talked about Eskridge, who came out of Palisades High two years ago and followed his brother, Ronald, into the SMC program. He made the team, but barely.“He averaged less than two minutes a game of playing time and less than one point,” said Shickman. “This season he became a starter and led our team in rebounding.”Eskridge was a swift forward who was on the scoring end of many fast breaks. And he drew a standing ovation from a larger-than-usual crowd at Corsair Pavilion Saturday with a thunderous dunk, driving in from the baseline on a set play.In a brief ceremony prior to the game, SMC sophomores Eskridge, Jon Kahraman and Aaron Harris were honored. The players’ parents were present, as was Harris’ coach at Mira Costa High, Glen Marks.Kahraman, a 6-foot-3 guard, suffered several injuries in his two Corsair seasons. When teammates were injured too he played out of position at power forward and made a contribution.This was Shickman’s second season as head coach. He was formerly an assistant to John McMullen, who coached the team for 24 years, won more than 500 games and was chosen for the California Community College Hall of Fame.In Saturday’s game, SMC held a 42-28 lead as Harris scored 16 points in the first half. The lead grew to 18 points in the second half, then began shrinking. But SMC, which had trouble holding leads late in several games, held on.Eskridge clinched the victory by making two free throws following a technical foul on Citrus in the final minute.The loss may have cost Citrus a playoff berth. Prior to the game, some school officials were calculating their playoff chances and figured they needed to win the game.
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