By Ted Waddell
LOCH SHELDRAKE March 13, 2007 Yogi Berra would love it.
For the Generals of Sullivan County Community College (SCCC), it’s “déja vu all over again” as, for the first time in four years, they’re headed off to the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) Division III Men’s Basketball Championships. The tournament will be held this Thursday, March 15 through Saturday, March 17 at SUNY Delhi.
SCCC was ranked No.1 in the NJCAA Division III poll from the start to finish during the 2006-2007 season. After recording a spotless 26-0 record during the regular season, the Generals clinched a berth at the national tourney by winning the Region XV title on March 4 by de-fanging the Nassau Community College Lions, 88-75, at Westchester County Community College in Valhalla.
On the way to capturing the regional title, SCCC defeated Bronx Community College, 100-45, in the quarterfinals, and Fashion Institute of Technology, 84-71, in the semifinal round.
As an added bonus, Generals’ Coach Chris DePew picked up the NJCAA Region XV Coach of the Year Award at the regional tournament.
“We had a nice little run last weekend,” said DePew of winning the regional championship, and improving to 29-0 on the season.
The title was SCCC’s 11th Region XV crown since 1988, a record within the region. And the Generals earned a berth at the nationals for the ninth time in school history.
“Sunday’s team [Nassau] thought they were going to walk in there and beat us pretty good,” DePew said of the battle for the regional championship. “We took that smile right off their faces in about a minute and a half into the game, when we went up 11-0… [and] they didn’t know what hit them.”
SCCC sophomore point guard Josh Lott was selected as the tourney’s MVP. He posted 19 points and 12 assists in the title game. Jason Johnson, who scored 16 points and grabbed 11 rebounds in the title-clincher against Nassau CC, was named to the All-Tournament team.
In 1992, SCCC won the NJCAA Division III national title under Coach Dave Possinger, with Mike McGuire at the helm as Athletic Director.
“We’re still living a little bit under that shadow,” DePew said.
Since taking over as Generals’ Head Coach, DePew has been to the nationals three times, going up against the best eight NJCAA squads in the country.
“We’re going in there undefeated, the number 1-ranked team from start to finish, and that makes it special,” he said.
“This is the best season I’ve ever had at Sullivan,” DePew added.
On February 25, the Generals won the Mid-Hudson Conference Tournament at Orange County Community College in Middletown.
While taking to the court at Delhi with a 29-0 record gives the Generals a psychological edge, it also means everyone will be gunning for them right from the get-go.
“We’re the biggest game on everyone’s schedule, and my kids have lived up to that challenge day in and day out this whole season,” DePew commented. “We’re just hoping to last three more games.”
According to the Generals’ leader, Region XV is traditionally considered the strongest region in the U.S. Out of all the national champion teams to win the tournament at SUNY Delhi, 12 have come out of Region XV. On four other occasions, a Region XV team has been the national runner-up.
“We’re confident we can go up there and compete,” DePew said. “If everything goes our way and we play the way we’re capable of playing, we should be in a position to win a few games.”
As is the case in the regionals, once you advance to the national championships, it’s a case of “lose and gone”. In other words, if your team drops a game you’re a footnote in NJCAA history at least until next year.
At 1 p.m. on Thursday, SCCC takes to the floor at SUNY Delhi in the opening round against Montgomery-Rockville Community College of Maryland.
“We know they have a shooting guard who averages about 20 points per game and a big kid who’s about 6-[foot]-5 and averages about 17 points a game,” DePew said.
He said Sullivan plans to counter with Jason Johnson and Donte Harrison, their “bigs” who each stands 6 feet, 8 inches tall and were dubbed the “Twin Towers.”
If the Generals prevail in the the quarterfinal game, they will move on to the semifinals at 6 p.m. Friday night against the winner of a game between North Lake College (Texas) and Quinsigamond Community College (Mass.).
If they make it to the championship round on Saturday, Sullivan will face one of four teams: Gloucester County College (NJ), Northland Community and Technical College (Minn.), College of DePage (Ill.) or Fulton-Montgomery Community College. Tip-off for the title contest is set for 8 p.m.
In recent years, SCCC has fielded several standout hoopsters. But at times it seemed like they were more intent on getting their mugs in the paper rather than taking a backseat to help their teammates on the road to victory.
This year, rather than marching to their own drummers, the Generals’ court chemistry is clicking during the games, that is.
“Our team chemistry off the court is absolutely horrendous, they’re always bickering with each other,” DePew said.
“They’re like a bunch of married couples, but when they get on that court, they have the ability to put it all behind them and go out there and do the job that needs to get done,” he added.
DePew said that while Jason Johnson is considered by many to be the team’s star, the Generals really don’t have a single star, but many.
“We’ve had 11 different guys lead us in scoring this year at different points and times during games,” DePew explained. “That makes us tough to guard.”
“If they stop Jason, they know B.J. [McDowell] is going to step up, and if they stop B.J., they know Jason or Donte [Harrison] are going to step up, and then Mike [Hines] will have a good game,” DePew said.
A couple of years ago, Darren Sykes was the Generals’ top shooter, and last year it was Everage Richardson. If opposing teams stopped those two outstanding players, it was all but over for Sullivan.
“This year, they’ve got to pick their poison,” DePew said. “Shut down the guards, the bigs step up, and if you shut down the bigs the guards are right there.”
One of the SCCC coaching staff’s goals this season was to stay humble.
“If Saturday night works out, maybe we can take the humble out of the bag and start enjoying it a little bit,” DePew stated.
“We’re not looking past anybody, but we have our eye on the prize,” he added. “It’s been a magical season, and it’s good to be back in the mix.”.