Top Jucos Angling to Return to Kansas in 2022
If you go by recent history, Florida is the No. 1 state in JUCO hoops. Bright coaches and big-time players galore. Shoot, the five-team Panhandle Conference alone is as tough as it gets. But if you go by the finals in last April’s National JC Athletic Association Division I Tournament at the Sports Arena in Hutchinson, Kansas, the host state is the best.
Two Kansas teams met in last year’s tournament finals. No. 10 seeded and at-large Coffeyville winning its first championship since 1962 by knocking off No. 8 seeded Cowley (108-99). It was the first all-Kansas finals since 1953. Coffeyville beat a Florida team, Chipola (66-63), to get into the finals. “It’s a great feeling of accomplishment. This team had an incredible week,” (winning five games in six days) said Coffeyville Coach Jay Herkelman. “The players did an outstanding job of staying in the moment and not looking down the road. The team had great chemistry and were very competitive and very unselfish.”
Practice for the 193 Division I programs this season starts Oct. 1 with games beginning Nov. 1. The No. 1 team this season is projected to be Chipola - with eight returnees on its roster - and the top Player of The Year candidate should be ultra-talented Blaise Keita, 6-11, of Coffeyville.
Chipola and No. 3 Northwest Florida St. are in the five-team Panhandle Conference, along with Gulf Coast, Pensacola St. and Tallahassee. Whatever the case, the season is long: a marathon, not a sprint. There are plenty of teams that could win this year’s tournament.
Could Coffeyville repeat? No team has done that since Southeastern (Iowa) in 2004. Will talented Chipola live up to its top billing? Will Shelton St. become the first team from Alabama to win it all? Will Coach Drew Kelly and unheralded Harcum, Pa. or gritty Florida SouthWestern St. come through? Or tradition-rich Eastern Florida St.? How about the College of Southern Idaho, Salt Lake (Utah) or John Logan (Illinois)? Or will it be one of the juco blue bloods: South Plains, Texas; Hutchinson, Kansas; or Vincennes, Indiana?
“It’s difficult to repeat because you usually don’t have the same players coming back and the new ones are still kind of living off what the previous players did the year before them,” said Elwyn McRoy, an assistant coach at Coastal Carolina. “People don’t understand the hard work and sacrifice it took to win it. After winning the championship you can’t duplicate in practice how you’re the No. 1 target every time you step on that court.”
Herkelman said he could tell as last season progressed that he had a winner. “I saw we had talent (early in the season) and that the depth was good,” said Herkelman. “I knew we could play with a lot of teams. The guys we recruited this season are good but we won’t know how good until we see them practicing. There are a lot of good teams you face before the tournament and then when you get to the tournament. The team that wins it deserves it. We and other teams who won the tournament had so many games in such a short amount of time.” While Herkelman has shaken a lot of hands, shared plenty of high fives, gotten lots of back slaps and heard from numerous past players – plenty, given he has coached at Coffeyville 26 seasons - he knows the tournament championship is history.
Among Coffeyville returnees are 6-0 point guard Love Bettis; 7-1, Atem Chol, whose size makes him a factor on both ends of the floor; Alhousseny Diallo, a 6-7 power forward; and Keita, who has committed to Nebraska. “Right now every team wants to beat Coffeyville, to beat No. 1,” said Keita. “It will be difficult (to repeat). We just have to listen to Coach and to prepare well.”
Herkelman knows only time will tell what transpires, but he also knows the Kansas Jayhawk Conference schedule will test his team ahead of the tournament. Conference games are always difficult, and involve plenty of travel. For example, there is a seven-hour trip to Kansas Northwest Tech in Goodland and an approximate six-hour jaunt to Colby, Garden City and Liberal/Seward County. No matter what happens, it won’t be easy for any team to win the NJCAA Tournament championship.
NATIONAL JC ATHLETIC ASSOCIATION
TEAMS Top 16
1. Chipola, Fla. (23-5)...Carlos Lemus, 6-3 + Naequan Tomlin, 6-9 = BigTime
2. Coffeyville, Kans. (27-3)...Championship repeat won’t be easy
3. NorthwestFlorida St. (6-15)... Deshawndre Washington, 6-7, a big get
4. Shelton St., Ala. (24-2)...Jaykwon Walton, 6-7, cut above the rest
5. Indian Hills, Iowa (21-3)..Has one of the best JC coaches in Hank Plona
6. Salt Lake, Utah (20-5)... Talented roster includes 7NCAA Division l transfers
7. South Plains, Texas (18-3)...Coach Steve Green one of USA’s best. Period.
8. Florida SouthWestern St. (18-5)...Won .869 of games in program’s five-seasons
9. Kilgore, Texas (18-6)...Excellentcoaching (Brian Hoberecht), excellentplayers
10. College of Southern Idaho (21-4)...KT Raimey, 6-4, one of the best in the USA
11. John Logan, Ill. (18-5)...Has good team depth, balance and personnel
12. Vincennes, Ind. (17-6)...Defense, rebounding, inside-out offense drives success
13. Hutchinson, Kans. (19-7)...Coach Tommy DeSalme givesBlue Dragons new look
14. Georgia Highlands (16-3)...Chris Wright, 6-2, leads 40-minute pressure defense
15. Eastern Florida St. (18-5)...Culture key to success under Coach Jeremy Shulman
16. Harcum, Pa. (17-1)...Unheralded Bears win with pressure defense, solid offense
16. Northeastern Oklahoma A&M (14-9)...Brian Moore, 6-3, will spur lots of wins
OTHERS Best Of The Rest
Brunswick, N.C. (15-4); Cape Fear, N.C. (7-4); Casper, Wyo. (13-8); Cochise, Ariz. (11-3); Connors St., Okla. (14-8); Cowley, Kans. (24-5); Dawson, Mont. (23-3); Dodge City, Kans. (14-9); Gulf Coast, Fla. (8-12); Holmes, Miss. (16-4); Moberly, Mo. (16-8); Motlow St., Tenn. (13-4); New Mexico (0-0); Northeast Mississippi (15-4); Odessa, Texas (20-3); Pearl River, Miss. (12-2); Polk St., Fla. (10-11); Ranger, Texas (22-5); South Georgia St. (23-4); South Georgia Tech (15-9); State College-Florida (11-8); Trinity Valley, Texas (23-3); Western Wyoming (16-6)
• Season records may have been affected by Covid
SOPHOMORES Top 16
1. Blaise Keita, 6-11, Coffeyville, Kans.
2. Deshawndre Washington, 6-7, Northwest Florida St.
3. Jaykwon Walton, 6-7, Shelton St., Ala.
4. Brian Moore, 6-3, Northeastern Oklahoma A&M
5. Erik Pratt, 6-5, Seward County, Kans.
6. Sean East, 6-2, John A. Logan, Ill.
7. Taj Anderson, 6-3, Indian Hills, Iowa
8. Dantwan Grimes, 6-2, Kilgore, Texas
9. Carlos Lemus, 6-3, Chipola, Fla.
10. KT Raimey, 6-4, College of Southern Idaho
11. Issa Muhammad, 6-9, Northwest Florida St.
12. Montreal Pena, 6-10, South Plains, Texas
13. Yazid Powell, 6-4, Harcum, Pa.
14. Da’Sean Nelson, 6-8, Kilgore, Texas
15. Naequan Tomlin, 6-9, Chipola, Fla.
16. Sincere Parker, 6-4, Moberly, Mo.
OTHERS Best Of The Rest
Justin Archer, 6-7, Florida SouthWestern St.; Stephan Byard, 6-7, Cochise, Ariz.;
Tre Clark, 6-3, Northwest Florida St.; Tre Dinkins, 6-2, Harcum, Pa.; Jonathan Dos Anjos, 6-8, Florida SouthWestern St.; Tommie Lewis, 6-3, Polk St., Fla.; Quincy McGriff, 6-6, Salt Lake, Utah; Zarique Nutter, 6-6, Clarendon, Texas; Paul Otieno, 6-8, Kilgore, Texas; Jestin Porter, 6-0, Tyler, Texas; Dayne Prim, 6-5, Western Wyoming; Jalen Reynolds, 6-7, South Georgia Tech; Josiah Shackleford, 6-8, Brunswick, N.C.; Adeola Seun, 6-10, Frank Phillips, Texas; Deuce Turner, 6-2, South Plains, Texas; Justin Warren, 5-11, Vincennes Ind.; James ‘Pop’ Weathers, 6-0, State College-Florida; Kevon Wiggins, 6-3, Lamar, Colo.; Chris Wright, 6-2, Georgia Highlands; Malik Zachery, 6-2, South Plains, Texas
• Some players may be classified differently, athletically or academically, due to Covid