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  • Writer's pictureTony Jimenez

CBT JUCO Men's Update - Carrillo And Cochise

Walk down the streets of Douglas, Arizona today and virtually everyone knows the Carrillo name and his game at Cochise, a two-year school. That’s what happens when you win consistently. Jerry Carrillo has led his team to 584 victories in 27 seasons at Cochise going into 2022. His 14-player roster includes only two sophomores, the tallest being 6-10 Oscar Cluff. Yet the squad is leading the National JC Athletic Association – that’s 193 Division l jucos – in field goal shooting at 79%.

More amazing is the fact that the players come from 12 towns or cities, including from Adelaide, Australia (Cluff) and Kingston, Jamaica (6-8 Lawrence Foreman). They all come to Cochise to play for a guy who's been at the school since 1995. To play for a guy who has proved he will go to the four corners of the USA and beyond, if needed, to get quality players. To play for a guy who got bit by the coaching bug after high school, when he, 5-8 and hard nosed, stopped playing and matriculated to the University of Arizona.


Carrillo ran up a 16-13 record in his first season at Cochise in 1995-96 and has had only one losing season since then (15-16/2013-14). "It was kind of a good situation for me,” said Carrillo. “You could only go one way, and that's up."


This year he keeps rising. His team rolled to a 10-1 record in Arizona Conference play and a 19-2 mark in all games as of late January. The last three seasons the Apaches won Arizona Conference championships. Cochise has had nine straight playoff berths and has made trips to Hutchinson, Kans. for the National JC Athletic Association Division I Tournament four times. “We are proud of the fact we change players in a big way,” said Carrillo. “We have held guys accountable. We have done it the right way.”


Players agree. “Books and basketball take up a lot of your time,” said Stephen "Tank" Byard, a member of this season’s team and Arizona Conference’s Player of the Year last season. “I like it here because Cochise knows how to support their sports teams.”


The school has an enrollment of about 1,100 students (200 live on campus) and is located about 13 miles west of Douglas and 16 miles east of Bisbee. It’s approximately 15 minutes from the Mexican border.


The Apaches – if they were re-named, Carrillo would call them the jack rabbits because there are so many of those animals in Arizona - play their home games in Stronghold gymnasium, generally in front of a full house of 1,100. “We play fast,” said assistant coach Jason Hopkins, “And the crowd really gets into it.” When Cochise goes on the road players travel via bus, often with a sack or box lunch or a per diem of $7-to-$8 per meal. When they can't find a driver, Carrillo and or Hopkins drive vans. Thus is life in the JCs.


In the 1980s and 1990s the Cochise campus housed the Arizona football team in pre-season workouts and it was called Camp Cochise by media members. When they left, Carrillo liked the concept and kept the name. “It is a very good situation for student athletes who want to focus on school and their respective sport,” said Carrillo.


“We win a lot because Coach cares about his players,” said Hopkins. “After we win we move the players right along (to 4-year schools).” Hopkins is a former player (2004-06), as is Northwest Wyoming Coach Jay Collins (1999-2001). “You are in the family and you are truly special,” said Collins. “He is like a father figure to a lot of the players.”


Collins said he found out more about the program when he was an assistant coach there than when he was a player. “You see the finished product on the floor, but you don’t see the meetings, the strategy, the scouting and all the other things that go into it,” said Collins. “He does a great job.”


So why hasn’t Carrillo packed his bags and headed for bigger and greener pastures? “It’s just how it has turned out,” he said. In 2011 he was all set to go to Chaminade in Hawaii but that fizzled. Then in April of 2012 he was a finalist at Northern Arizona, but the school looked elsewhere.


Perhaps those schools are questioning their decisions to pass on him. Perhaps they should be. As Arizona Western Coach Kyle Isaacs explains, there is one reason Cochise wins so often: “Simple. Two words. Jerry Carrillo.”

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