Consistent improvement carried Bobby Sharp from reserve to all-state in junior college, and the one-time long shot now is poised to play against the nation’s best.
    Portland University basketball coaches are penciling in Sharp, a former Santa Rosa Junior College and Cardinal Newman standout, to help the Pilots win in the always tough West Coast Conference — battling Gonzaga and St. Mary’s, perennial NCAA tournament contenders.
    “We expect Bobby to be able to come in and contribute right away,” Portland coach Eric Reveno said. “It is our hope that Bobby will be able to give us immediate help with both our perimeter shooting and overall ball handling.
    “Although Bobby is a great shooter, he has already demonstrated a willingness and desire to both share the basketball and defend.”
    In Portland for conditioning and limited practice, Sharp recognizes the strides he must continue taking following a breakout season at SRJC.
    “I have a good opportunity to get on the floor. The possibility to start is there if I work hard and do the right things,” he said. “I’m excited to be here. I’m not overwhelmed. Playing at the JC helped me get used to that.”
    If his two seasons at Santa Rosa are an indicator of future success, Sharp could be an impact player in the major college game.
    An All-Empire athlete out of Cardinal Newman, the 6-foot guard had to push for starter’s minutes in his first season at SRJC. Getting stronger, playing tighter defense and creating more shooting opportunities as a sophomore, Sharp earned Big Eight Conference Player of the Year and All-State honors.
    “He improved throughout his time here,” SRJC coach Craig McMillan said. “It came from working hard and being dedicated. Bobby was very consistent.”
    Mindful of the challenges ahead in the major college game, Sharp figures he can compete with smart and steady play.
    The pace is comparable to the high junior college teams SRJC faced in its deep run through the state playoffs.
    But the athletes are going to be bigger and quicker in the WCC, each a triple threat — shooting, driving and passing.
    “It’s just getting used to the talent. The skills of the players are just much higher,” Sharp said.
    Coming from a top junior college program should help ease the transition, Reveno said.
    “Bobby is well prepared for Division I, but it is always an adjustment. I would not say it will be one particular thing, but just the overall level of play,” Reveno said. “We are confident he will adjust and do just fine.”
    For the past month, Sharp has been in Portland working with the team. Mornings are spent in the weight room and on conditioning. Afternoons feature practice sessions and open gym play.
    “It’s been going well. I’m getting stronger and faster,” Sharp said.
    Sharp will know soon enough how ready he is as Portland turns up the practice pace. The Pilots are preparing for a 10-day playing tour through Spain in August.
    “That was kind of one of the selling points. That’s definitely a bonus,” he said.
    Portland was Sharp’s first choice among a handful of programs including Hawaii, Albany and UC Riverside.
    Playing in the WCC was a draw. Sharp’s family can see him play when Portland makes road trips to the Bay Area for games with St. Mary’s, San Francisco and Santa Clara. The Pilots also play at Pacific in Stockton, the conference’s latest addition.
    “It’s definitely a competitive league,” Sharp said. “I’m ready to take that test.”
    Going to a small college in a big city was another attraction. Sharp is taking a pair of summer classes required for a major in communications.
    “I set my goals as high as I could,” Sharp said. “It was the best fit for me.”
    Michael Coit can be reached at 
  PROFILE: Bobby Sharp
   Four-year college: Portland University (junior, communications major)
   SRJC: Big 8 Conference Player of the Year; California Community College Athletic Association All-State selection
   High school: Cardinal Newman, All-Empire First Team as a junior and senior