What is the problem: Inside ECC men’s basketball program

El Camino College men’s basketball program has underachieved in the last five seasons, posting a 40-91 record in that span, despite having a deep roster of local talent amid head coach Robert Uphoff’s eight-year long tenure.

Uphoff brings a traditional coaching style as he believes in hard work over talent, doesn’t tolerate any nonsense and likes players to buy into the system he has cultivated at ECC.

“I tell guys during recruitment we don’t make promises,” Uphoff said. “You will work for every minute and if you’re planning to slack off in the classroom this is not the place for you. El Camino [College] is a top academic school and you’re a student-athlete first.”

The Warriors have yet to strike a 20 win season since Uphoff took the head coach position in 2012 after being an assistant coach at Fresno State College.

The team lost only one game by five or less points in 28 games this past season, losing 21 games by 10 or more points.

With an extensive basketball resume, Uphoff’s arrival was supposed to be a promising hire considering he played in both junior college and at a four-year university.

“Out of college I knew I wanted to be involved in the game and help develop players,” Uphoff said.

In the off-season training camp, Uphoff brings an intense atmosphere towards conditioning, preparing players to be in better physical shape to out muscle and run teams.

Players have track competitions, tire flips, weight training and other militant styled conditioning tactics to elevate his players’ play on the court.

“Conditioning is crazy and [has] you wondering like ‘Why are we doing so much fitness work instead of skill work?’ but [Uphoff’s] conditioning had me on another level physically,” former Warriors guard Jamal Heckard said.

Players who came in needing development with their skills accredited Uphoff for getting them more comfortable with their game if they stuck with it.

“I was trash but Uphoff [saw] I was willing to work and helped me improve to be able to start some games,” sophomore guard Oshiua Alston said.

With being so prepared for physical dominance, how is the program consistently falling short and why are players leaving after one year with the program?

Uphoff said he relies on his coaching staff to do a good amount of the scouting and recruiting, yet roster spots still need to be filled when the season comes.

Players have not been recruited for a position-of-need as the program has had a plethora of teams that have been undersized, having taller guards defend forwards and centers creating a matchup problem in the post.

The program has had an ongoing plague of injuries to key players or players not fully buying into the culture.

Preparation has been a cerebral problem for the program as far as the team’s inabilities to make shots in tough moments and coaching not being able to adjust to opposing team’s game plans

“He was out-coached in a lot of our games which showed in critical moments because we would stay doing the same things we [were] losing from,” former Warrior Tarron Wiley said. “Talent-wise we all kind of fell in his lap.”

A timeout is called when the momentum of the game is shifting in order to regroup, the Warriors sideline never looked motivated to make a run and often showed signs of doubt that they were capable of achieving the goal.

Wiley and Heckard played together for the Warriors in the 2016-2017 season, in which Heckard led the team in scoring, averaging 19 points, good enough for 10th in the state after not even being recruited by ECC.

Wiley played a semester at Azusa Pacific University before checking out and transferring to Uphoff’s program, who actually took a liking to his game after not being recruited to play at ECC.

The Warriors were off to its best start under Uphoff during to 2016-17 season before injuries occurred.

Uphoff removed Wiley from the starting lineup and couldn’t crack the code to another successful lineup, which resulted in yet another underachieved season.

ECC was off to a 6-1 record in the first seven games but went on to finish 11-16.

Wiley then transferred to a division two school in Nebraska without much help from the Warriors program.

Not being the best student, Heckard fell a credit short going into his sophomore season which lead him to sit out.

Heckard said he was planning on leaving but ultimately stayed because his best friend Ricky Bryant had enrolled at ECC. However, both were unable to play alongside each other due to Heckard’s ineligibility.

After getting an opportunity to view the program as a spectator, Heckard saw the team improve in talent but were not together in camaraderie.

He was not pleased with what he saw from the team as the season went on as Bryant didn’t finish the season with the Warriors.

“[I had] no interest coming off a big season from any four-year colleges and I got to view Uphoff from a sideline perspective and couldn’t see me playing for him,” Heckard said.

Interest was a big question mark in general for Heckard, with him not being a qualifier and having one more year of eligibility, schools were not interested even after his successful year.

Heckard would transfer to Cerritos College for the 2018-19 season, where he would earn a scholarship to Eastern Oregon University the following season.

Warriors guard/forward Darrian Williams-Youngblood was the Jamal Heckard of the team this past season and checked out of ECC before the season ended.

“We looked past some concerns we had in hopes his play would overlook the issues we had, but both parties felt it was the best interest to part ways,” Uphoff said.

Could it be coaching?

Players not liking the coaching?

Maybe both but one thing that is fact, the program continues to lose games and key players are leaving after one year due to on-the-court circumstances or otherwise.


Editor’s note: This story was updated to fix grammatical errors on Monday, June 1 at 1:40 p.m.