When it comes to turn-around basketball seasons within a season, the Kansas City Kansas Community College comeback has to rank among the Jayhawk Conference’s all-time best.
Just 3-10 in mid-January, Blue Devil fortunes did a complete reversal. Despite facing the most difficult part of their schedule, they won 12 of their next 16 games including one streak of eight in a row, got to the .500 mark at 16-16, tied for third in Division I of the Jayhawk, earned a first round Division II playoff bye and got to within one win of the Division II national tournament. Their only losses in their last 12 games were to undefeated Jayhawk champion Coffeyville 83-81 and DII champion Brown Mackie in the Region VI championship game.
So how does such a change happen? “Having Evrard Atcho the second semester was one factor,” coach Jon Oler said of his 6-10 sophomore from Cugy, Switzerland. Although averaging only 6.5 points and 6.3 rebounds, Atcho blocked 61 shots in 22 games, an average of 2.77 per game.
“He changed the game with his blocks and by altering shots,” Oler said. “Not having him the first semester probably cost us another four or five wins, at least, because it really took us until the beginning of February to figure out his role and how he fit. Not only did he grow into the role, it allowed us to move Josh Rupperecht inside which helped with his defensive presence.”
With only three sophomore returnees, three of the Blue Devils’ first five losses were by a total of six points.
“One of the things we did was change the offense from the one I’ve run the last 10 years,” Oler said. “It took us a while to tweak it into fitting us but I think it really helped Jordan Banks a lot and our two freshmen guards (D.J. Booker and Antonio Winn) got more comfortable and started shooting the ball better,”
Through it all, 6-7 freshman Dominique Washington was the picture of consistency on the way to earning All-Jayhawk East and All-Region VI Division first team honors. Scoring less than nine points only once in 32 games and hauling down at least six rebounds in all but two games with 11 double doubles, Washington averaged 18.6 points and 9.0 rebounds to finish third in Jayhawk scoring and fourth in rebounding. An outstanding shooter, he shot 55.1 percent for the season including 22-of-64 from three-point, the second best average on the team.
Rupprecht added 9.1 points and 5.1 rebounds, Atcho 6.5 points and 6.3 rebounds and freshman Anthony Lane 4.6 points and 4.0 rebounds as the Blue Devils outrebounded foes by 1½ points a game. While Lane’s time was reduced by the shift of Rupperecht inside, Oler expects major production from the Turner grad next season.
The Blue Devils also got excellent production from sophomore Jordan Banks, who finished strong, scoring in double figures in nine of his last 15 games in averaging 8.6 points, 3.2 rebounds and 1,6 assists.
Booker and Winn shared quarterbacking duties. Only one assist apart for the season, Booker averaged 4.15 and Winn 4.12. Booker also averaged 10.2 points per game and Winn 8.8.
“They both stepped up at times, understood things and grew into their roles,” Oler said.
Evan Burns, who averaged 2.4 points and 1.2 assists, will add experience and depth to the backcourt although as a redshirt freshman, he could move on academically. “He’s very competitive and tough defensively,” Oler said.
With nearly two-thirds of the offense scheduled to return next year, Oler is understandably optimistic about the future. “One thing you learn is that freshmen become sophomores; weaknesses are not always going to be there and we should have a good nucleus to build on,” Oler said.
Ironically in finishing 16-16, both the Blue Devils and their opponents scored exactly the same number of points, 2,195 – an average of 68.6 per game.