By Ted Waddell
LOCH SHELDRAKE March 13, 2001 Will Brown, third-year coach of the Sullivan County Community College (SCCC) mens basketball team has a lot to crow about this year.
But on the verge of the upcoming National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) Division III Nationals at SUNY Delhi next week, Brown hesitated to sound overconfident because he doesnt relish a plateful of his feathered friend. Brown is a guy who doesnt take eating crow lightly.
In a rather helter skelter NJCAA 2000-2001 Region XV Championship Tournament hosted March 2-4 by the Mid-Hudson Conference and SCCC at the local community college, the host hoopsters earned a berth in the nationals with a 3-0 tourney record.
The Generals cruised to a 65-55 victory in the opening game against Technical Career Institutes (TCI).
In the second round, the hosts almost earned a trip to the stands to sit out the rest of the tourney, but managed to squeak by with a 57-52 semifinal win over rival Suffolk County Community College. The Generals had to stage a miraculous comeback, as they were down 13 points with 5:02 left on the game clock.
In the championship game against Ulster County Community College, the Generals gave the Senators a bit of a civics lesson as they defeated the opposition 69-55, but managed to frustrate their demanding coach with a lackluster offensive performance. As the game got underway, it appeared as if it was going to be a repeat of the semi, as the Generals were down by several points in the opening minutes of the first frame.
We did what we had to to survive, and I thought we did a fairly good job defensively, said Brown after the heat of tourney dust had settled a bit.
When the ball wasnt going into the basket for us, the only way we could survive was to defend and rebound, he added. The true test of this team was being down by 15 with five or six minutes left on the game clock, and then outscoring them 22-2 to end the game.
Brown said he still cant understand why his horses struggled to put the ball in the bucket during the tourney. Its the first time thats happened to us all year long, he said reflectively.
Regular Season in Review
In looking back on the 2000-2001 season, Brown said this edition of the Generals is the best hes coached since taking over the helm at SCCC three years ago, during a time of turmoil and restructuring in the wake of a controversial season under a previous athletic administration.
Ive got more moving parts this year than Ive ever had at Sullivan, he said. They are focused as a group, they understand the task at hand. Its a nice combination of guards and front-court kids.
I wouldnt think of trading this team for either of the other two teams Ive had, added Brown.
According to the young court-wise coach, his hoopsters suffer one potentially fatal flaw: overconfidence, with a marked propensity to take the opposition perhaps a little too lightly, as his guys expect to take to the floor and blow off the opposition.
Early on, our team got this sense of invincibility, said Brown. When you consistently beat people by wide margins, I think its tough to get kids up for games, because their psyche says, Here goes coach again trying to tell us how good this team is. You did that with the last seven or eight teams, and we beat them by forty [points.]
Brown said that during the regular season, the Generals were getting their best workouts in practice.
I have a very confident group with a lot of depth that allowed us to press people and wear them down, said Brown.
Brown said the regular season was very successful, noting the only loss in regular season play was at the hands of the defending national champs. On January 19, the Generals were defeated on the road 86-83 by Roxbury, following a four-week holiday season layoff.
The hosts finished their last game of the first semester with a December 21 win over Nassau, but were then saddled with a month of inactivity.
Because SCCC doesnt have its own dorms yet, most of the student-athletes couldnt afford the off-campus rent money to hang around town, so they headed home.
On January 15, they got back on the court, and a couple of days later dropped a close game against the #1 team in the country.
Losing to Roxbury got us refocused a little bit, said Brown.
At the close of the regular season, the top-seeded Generals took a 243 record into the Region XV tourney.
Sullivans hard charging, playmaking guards Earv Opong and Dereck Rankin were picked by the regions coaches as First-Team Region XV All-Stars.
Rankin, was runner-up in Player of the Year voting to Suffolks Garnett Thompson, earning six of 11 first-place votes, totalling 77 votes to Thompsons 87.
The National Test
For the Generals, the upcoming NJCAA national championship is a chance to pick up a national trophy for the fourth time in the schools history.
The Nationals will be played at SUNY Delhi, March 15-17, as the eight best NJCAA teams in the country engage in a shoot-out to see whos top dog in the nation.
I dont know if this team is capable of winning a national championship weve got to win three games in three days but I know were going to give it our best shot, said Brown.
The Generals are scheduled to leave for Delhi this Wednesday in order to get in some practice time on the SUNY court.
On Thursday, March 15, they are slated to face off against the Rockville, MD based Montgomery County Community College, in the opening round of the national championships. The game kicks off at 6 p.m.
If the Generals get past Montgomery, they will play the winner of the game between Vermilion CC of Minnesota and the hosts from SUNY Delhi. Fridays semi-final is set to begin at 8 p.m.
Saturdays battle for the NJCAA National Championship title is scheduled for 8 p.m.
Brown said he thinks the Generals stiffest competition will be Montgomery County Community College, as they are the first team SCCC will go up against in the national tourney.
Browns picks as the most dangerous wolves in the eight-pack?
Roxbury, the defending champs; Cedar Valley from Texas, who play in an all-Division I league; and Vermilion, who lead the nation in scoring 108 points per game [and] upset the number two ranked team in the country last week.
Were practicing and getting ready, said Brown. Were working hard at getting better at the things we do well.
According to the Generals coach, he plans to put his team through their paces right up to the day before they leave for Delhi. In their next couple of days, the Generals expect to spend a lot of time on the court practicing various scenarios against the shot clock and game ticker.
Were down one with 24 seconds to go and we have the ball on the other side of the floor, or the score is tied under our basket with seven seconds left, said Brown. How are we going to respond?
Brown said hes expecting to get a look at some film of Montgomery in action, the college is trying to get tape on Vermilion and Ive seen Delhi play in person.
I expect every game to be a war. Brown said of the upcoming nationals, adding he will be in the stands watching all the other teams compete for the title in order to get a heads-up on the opposition.
Starters for the SCCC Generals: Kris Ibezim, 6-8 sophomore center from Mt. Vernon; Shiron Brown, 6-3 freshman guard from Laurinburgh Prep; Curtis Henry, 6-8 sophomore forward/center from Brentwood; Earvin Opong, 5-7 sophomore guard from Christopher Columbus; and Dereck Rankin, 5-9 sophomore guard from John Jay.
I like our chances, but for me to guarantee a victory is crazy, said Brown. Weve got to play well on both ends of the floor, stay healthy and get lucky.
Weve got to take it one game at a time, he added. We could very easily go 3-0 next weekend, or we could just as easily be 0-3. Thats how tough the competition is.
The bottom line?
Weve got to put the ball in the basket, defend and rebound, said Brown.