Tritons eager to get program back on track
When a coach doesn’t have to worry as much about the fundamentals and just coach basketball instead, a transition including 12 newcomers can still be a smooth one.
Entering his 39th season, Iowa Central head coach Dennis Pilcher likes the early signs of what his ballclub can achieve.
Pilcher, who is in the NJCAA’s Top-10 career wins list with an overall 822-549 career mark, saw the Tritons struggle to put together a solid season last winter, winning only 11 games.
This time around, Pilcher believes Iowa Central is much better equipped to succeed.
“We have solid players and a lot better basketball IQ,” Pilcher said. “Last year, we didn’t execute or compete on a consistent basis. This group is smart, and they’ll give a solid effort on both ends of the court.
“They’re very coachable. They’ve made a lot of improvement since Day 1, and I’ve been impressed with both their attitude and focus.”
Though the squad is relatively young, Iowa Central does welcome back leading scorer Tray Croft for his sophomore season. Sophomore Robert Hawkins returns as well.
Croft, who was a first-team ICCAC all-region pick a year ago, average 24.1 points per contest. It was a strong rookie campaign for the Alabama native, who broke a single-season school record held by Al Nuness that stood for 50 years with 772 points.
Croft played in all 32 games, and his scoring average ranked fifth in the nation.
“Tray has done a great job,” Pilcher said. “He is a strong competitor and wants to win. The best players play hard and work to improve. The younger players will see and respect that.
“He’s going to get a lot of recognition, and the four-year programs will be looking at him.”
Croft reached the 20-point mark 25 times and eclipsed 30 points eight times. He had a career-high 36 points in a win over Ellsworth.
As a freshman, Croft shot 46 percent from the field and 37 percent from three. He was also an 80 percent free-throw shooter, making 192 of 239 attempts. His 147 assists placed him 30th in the country.
Hawkins played in 23 games and average three points per contest.
Incoming freshmen Dallas Bailey of Colorado, Collin Shannon of Ankeny and Thomas Akamarmoi of Australia are expected to be key contributors immediately.
“Dallas stands 6-6 and shoots the ball well from the outside. He’s going to put up some points for us,” Pilcher said. “Collin is a solid shooter, too. Thomas can put the ball on the floor and go. He’ll be a good starter for us.”
Cedar Rapids Washington graduate Royshawn Webb, who stands 6-foot-3, averaged 15.3 points per contest last season as a senior in high school.
After five scrimmages in the preseason, Pilcher is pleased to see depth on his bench building as well.
“We have about eight or nine guys that we can count on,” Pilcher said. “We have a couple of post guys that have made a lot of improvement. We’ll start four guards and play a lot of four out.
“(Canadian native) Justin Taylor (6-7) is a strong kid and does a good job on the boards. Raphael Jegede (6-5) from England is another big guy who is quick and mobile.”
In the early preseason scrimmages, Pilcher has seen an added emphasis on defense.
“We’re playing pretty good D,” Pilcher said. “We’re capable of doing a great job and offensively we’re doing a good job of getting open shots. I’ve been real impressed with that.
“We won’t be a good offensive rebounding ballclub, but we’ll be able to hold our own on the defensive boards.”
With the NJCAA Div. II national champion coming out of the ICCAC the past two seasons, the Tritons are expecting another strong league slate.
“Southwestern won the national title last year, and Kirkwood was the champion two years ago,” Pilcher said. “We’re playing in the best JUCO league in the country.
“We’re going to play nine or 10 (NJCAA) Div. I programs,” Pilcher said. “We play a competitive schedule, which means we have to grow up pretty quickly. It’s going to make us better, but it’s not conducive for having a great record.”
Pilcher will be assisted by Chad Helle and Matt Garner.
Iowa Central opens the season on Wednesday against the Grand View JV at 7:30 p.m. on Dennis Pilcher Court.
IOWA CENTRAL MEN’S BASKETBALL
Robert Hawkins, Chicago, IL; Tray Croft, Anniston, AL.
Kane Kramer, Cedar Rapids; Royshawn Webb, Cedar Rapids; Bay Etheredge, Locust Fork, AL; Dallas Bailey, Denver, CO; Collin Shannon, Ankeny; Alex Dolce, Fort Lauderdale, FL; Kemryn Jenkins, Louisville, KY; Jaden Kephart, Johnston; Raphael Jegede, London, England; Moses Jones, Augusta, GA; Justin Taylor, Brampton, Canada; Thomas Akamarmoi, Central Coast, Australia.
Nov. 2 — Grand View JV, 7:30 p.m.; 6 — Marshalltown, 7 p.m.; 10-11 — at Norfolk, Neb. vs. Central CC, 4 p.m.; 11 — Northeast CC, 6 p.m.; 15 — at Little Priest Tribal College, 7:30 p.m.; 17 – at Boone, 5:30 p.m.; 18 – at Boone (County Upper Academy), 2 p.m.; 20 — Dakota County Tech, 7:30 p.m.; 27 – Simpson, 6 p.m.
Dec. 1 — Central CC, 7 p.m.; 2 – Northeast CC, 6 p.m.; 8-9 — at Highland, Illinois; 13 — at Dakota County Tech, 7 p.m.; 16 — Little Priest Tribal College, 3 p.m.
Jan. 7 — Waldorf, 1 p.m.; 10 — at Iowa Western, 7 p.m.; 13 — Kirkwood, 3 p.m.; 17 — Southwestern, 7:30 p.m.; 20 – at NIACC, 3 p.m.; 24 – Iowa Lakes, 7:30 p.m.; 31 — at DMACC, 7:30 p.m.
Feb. 3 — Ellsworth, 3 p.m.; 7 — Marshalltown, 7 p.m.; 10 — at Kirkwood, 3 p.m.; 14 — at Southwestern, 7:30 p.m.; 17 — NIACC, 3 p.m.; 21 – at Iowa Lakes, 7:30 p.m.; 28 — DMACC, 7:30 p.m.
March 3 — at Ellsworth, 3 p.m.