By Carolyn Linck, '11
Yannick Atanga didn't play in a single second for the Broncos last season. The 6'8 freshman originally from Yaoundé, Cameroon, spent his first year of Santa Clara basketball as a redshirt, watching the games from the sideline. This doesn't mean, however, that he didn't learn and grow a tremendous amount over the course of the 2010-11 year. Indeed, Atanga believes his redshirt season enabled him to become a better, stronger and smarter player, all of which will help when he gets on the court for the Broncos in 2011.
"I can't tell you how excited I am to get into the game," said Atanga. "It's like I'm starving right now. Last year I went through the same routine as the rest of the team – practice, warm-ups, meetings, road trips – everything but the actual games. Putting the jersey on and playing is the only thing missing from my college experience right now, and I can't wait."
With the loss of defensive stoppers Troy Payne and Ben Dowdell the Broncos will need Atanga's defensive presence. Atanga hopes to contribute right away.
"I want to help my team as much as I can," said Atanga. "That was the thing about being a redshirt. Sometimes it was difficult to just watch and learn when I wanted to get out there and help in the moment. I know this year I'll get that opportunity, and I definitely want to make my presence felt defensively. I hope I can lead in rebounds and also contribute on the offensive end as well."
Atanga, who didn't start playing basketball until six years ago, recognizes how much he has learned about the game in his short time with Santa Clara basketball.
"From the sidelines you are able to see things from a different point view," explained Atanga. "It's a process where you see something from practice happen in the games over and over again, and you realize how important those lessons from practice are, and how to apply them in the future."
As a team the Broncos are hoping to build on the success of their 2011 CIT Championship run, rising to heightened expectations of them.
"We know people expect more out of us now," said Atanga. "And that's good. We're ready to win. Our ultimate goal is to make it to the big dance, the NCAA Tournament in March."
Personally, Atanga feels he will have something to prove when he gets on the court this season.
"We all have something to prove, and I definitely do," said Atanga. "As a team we need to prove that we are an up-and-coming program. For me, I need to prove to myself how far I've come in this past year. I also have something to prove to my family and friends back in Cameroon, and I have to prove to my teammates that they can count on me in the games."
Atanga is working tirelessly this off season to accomplish this. In the individual spring workouts he's been focusing on his fundamentals and offensive production.
"I'm working on becoming more efficient in the paint," said Atanga. "I'm also always trying to become stronger in the weight room."
Atanga's teammates can already the results of his work.
"Yannick has come a long way in his time here," said graduating senior Troy Payne. "When he first got here he was very raw, and you can definitely see his development. He's much stronger and bigger now than when he arrived. His offense has gotten much better too, and he's really improved his jump shot and post game."
When the Broncos travel to Vancouver, Canada, this September Atanga will get his first opportunity to compete for the Broncos.
"I can't wait to go to Vancouver," said Atanga. "I talk to Marc Trasolini, a Vancouver native, about it every day. That's where I am going to play my first game. I'm just so ready to get on the court and help my team."