NWF State Men’s basketball … Your 2017 National Champs
OK, so the headline hooked you in.
Like the thick New York accents of Steve DeMeo and Rory Kuhn … like Jake Williams’ flashy, game day Tennessee orange shirt and tie combo … it’s bold. I mean, who labels a team national champions in the preseason? We do, that’s who.
Yet, however bold, this prognostication feels right. No fingers crossed. No playful wink of the eye. No hyperbole. No need to knock on the hardwood of Mickey Englett Court for the anti-jinx.
Simply put, the Raiders are the best team in Juco men’s basketball. The Sporting News decreed it in its annual preseason guide. The NJCAA backed up that claim in the preseason polls.
“We like to be the center of attention in Juco basketball,” said DeMeo, who led the program to a national title two years ago and enters his fourth year at the helm. “That’s what we’re asking for. “The ranking is a testament to our returning players, a testament to our new players, a testament to our administration and a testament to our assistant coaches for all their hard work over the years.”
This publication has joined in on the media hype, or is it they who’ve joined us? Regardless of the who put the keys in the bandwagon’s ignition, what makes us think the Raiders will be cutting down the nets in March?
Many things. The stacked new recruiting class, the adversity that’ll be used from last year’s elite eight exit, the fountain of knowledge from the coaching staff. All of it.
But, most importantly, it starts with the returning core of starters.
University of Pittsburgh commitment Jared Wilson-Frame, a first-team all-Panhandle and all-Region selection, returns at shooting guard. This is the same guy that counts his contemporary idols as LeBron James, James Harden and Kyrie Irving.
“This team could win a national championship,” said the 6-foot-5 sophomore who averaged 15.4 points, 4.4 rebounds and 2.6 3-pointers a night last year. “Just based on the selflessness on this team, the new pieces, the way we gel … it’s liberating. It feels better. it feels right.”
Daryl Edwards, an honorable mention all-Panhandle selection, returns his 6-4 frame to point guard, giving Raiders what DeMeo called part of the “best backcourt in the country.”
And 6-7 forward Jeromy Rodriguez, who embraced the sixth-man role last season, is now a starter in the frontcourt. Add in forward Malik Petteway and guard Teehjay Bogan, and the Raiders have the experience they lacked last year when they were bounced in the Elite Eight.
“Five returners is pretty good for Juco,” DeMeo said. “The bottom line is when you’re a freshman, whether it be Division I or Juco, you’re going to go through that level of shock in adjusting. The team we lost to, Hutchinson, they had a lot of sophomores and handled it well. I’m glad it left a sour taste in our mouth because we’re going to be more prepared down the stretch this year.”
More prepared, yes. And more versatile.
NWF State can play any style it wants: Up-tempo, full-court, half-court, pressing, trapping, slowing it down.
“Anything,” DeMeo said. “We’re deeper, more versatile than any other team we’ve had here. We have 13 players and I trust every one of them on the court.”
Echoed Wilson-Frame, “We’re an up-tempo crew, but we can also slow it down. We have the size to play in the half-court and the athleticism to run the court.”
As for the “new pieces” Wilson-Frame alluded to earlier, there are key recruits like Oregon State recruit PJ Bruce, a 6-3 point guard who shined in last year’s NCAA tournament.
There’s Kansas State wing Ron Freeman, another lights-out shooter with 6-7 length, and also 6-10 center Andrew Gordon, who DeMeo called “One of the most explosive, powerful, strong dudes in the country.” And that’s just a highlighting a few.
“We’re a little smaller but quicker and more skilled,” DeMeo said. “The Warriors went to the championship with 6-7 guys in the frontcourt last year. Size is overrated. It’s about speed, quickness, passing and shooting.”
Edwards is a fan of the team’s makeup.
“We got a different style, but it’s a good thing,” he said. “We’re quicker, have a little more athleticism. We’re better.”
Echoed Rodriguez, “I know we’re better. It’s good to have that No. 1 ranking and I think we deserve it, but we just have to keep working and do what it takes to get to nationals and get a national championship.”
Malik Petteway, 6-7 sophomore forward
– Averaged 4.2 points, 4.9 rebounds last year for Raiders.
DeMeo: “He took a huge step from last season. He’s playing with more confidence and shooting the ball from 3-point range. Just growing as a person, growing as a player and I think he’s going to be a big part of our success this year. He can dribble, can rebound and push it in transition. And he’s a better passer as well. Very explosive athlete, too, all around.”
Daryl Edwards, 6-4 sophomore point guard
– Averaged 13.4 points, 3.6 assists, 4.6 rebounds last season for Raiders and 18 points, five assists and six rebounds in postseason stretch.
DeMeo: “He’s coming off of an injury (surgery on hip) but his rehab went great and he’s ready to go. He can shoot, he can drive and he’s a big-time player who raises his game in big-time situations. We expect him to be even better than last year.”
Jared Wilson-Frame, 6-5 sophomore guard
– Pittsburgh commit averaged 15.4 points, 3.2 assists, 4.4 rebounds, 2.6 3-pointers last year for Raiders and 19 points, six rebounds four assists and postseason stretch.
DeMeo: “He’s in much better shape. Very versatile. Good energy. Last year shooting percentages could have been better, but he’s taking better quality shots. Defense has gotten a lot better as well.”
Jeromy Rodriguez, 6-7 sophomore forward
– In sixth-man role, averaged 6.7 points, 4. 8 rebounds last year for Raiders.
DeMeo: “His role is going to be a lot bigger, one of our starters in the frontcourt after being our sixth man last year. He’s a team leader, probably our best communicator on the team defensively. We’re just glad to have him and his versatility.”
Teehjay Bogan, 6-5 sophomore guard
– Averaged 2.7 points and 1.2 assists off bench last year for Raiders.
DeMeo: “Teehjay has actually gotten a lot more confident. He actually was one of a few bright spots in the last game of the year last year. Great confidence. Great shots. I think it’s going to carry over. We expect some good things out of him this year.”
Andrew Gordon, 6-10 freshman center
– Clearwater native offered by Memphis, Richmond, Xavier, Florida Gulf Coast, Arkansas and other D-I programs.
DeMeo: “One of the most explosive, powerful, strong dudes in the country. Just needs to get in more repetitions and time. Former football player who just needs to transition into our coaching and adjust. He is a hard worker. Powerful guy. One of the better second jumpers we have ever coached. After missed shots he’s gonna put it right back through.”
Ron Freeman, 6-6 sophomore wing
– Kansas State transfer who saw action in 11 games but played only 1.7 minutes a night.
DeMeo: “Long wing. Big-time shooter. Very good athlete. He has a lot of length, better feel for the game than we expected. He’s a very good player that can really, really shoot and he’s great defensively on the perimeter.”
PJ Bruce, 6-3 sophomore point guard
– Oregon State transfer who had 25 points against Cal in Pac-12 QF and 15 points against VCU in first round of the NCAA tournament.
“Big-time point guard, great feel for the game, shoots from 3. He’s a transfer from Oregon state, a big-time player, one of the best on-the-ball defenders in the backccourt.”
Karim Ezzedine, 6-9 freshman forward
– From Greenbrier East in West Virginia, where he was state’s top prospect.
DeMeo: “Very, very skilled on perimeter, just has to get better inside. Needs to be stronger, tougher inside and be a finisher. He’s almost a 3-man with 6-9 size.
Stanley Davis II, 6-2 freshman guard
– Walk-on from Leon High.
DeMeo: “Big-time shooter … he’s gonna get a scholarship somewhere soon, definitely in two years.”
Joe Cook-Green, 6-4 freshman point guard
– New Zealand product with international experience.
DeMeo: “He’s scrappy, a good point guard coming of an Achilles injury. Day to day he’s getting better.”
Casey Ponder, 6-6 freshman forward
– Rocky Bayou product who averaged double-double and was first-team all-area in senior year.
DeMeo: “Long, versatile guy can play multiple positions needs to gain strength.”
Andres Feliz, 6-2 freshman point guard
– Originally committed to the University of South Florida and starred for the Dominican Republic team in the U19 World Championships with team-leading 18.9 points and 3.7 assists over seven games.
DeMeo: “Overall great feel, great scoring in transition, great ball-handling skills.”