By ALAN HOSKINS
Did Kansas City Kansas Community College’s move to Division II basketball come two years too late?
Coach Jon Oler might think so. Led by the nation’s rebounding leader, Marshall star Dennis Tinnon, the 2010-11 Blue Devils came within one win of the Jayhawk East championship and were 7-0 against four of the five teams they will be competing against in Division II for a right to advance to the national tournament – Johnson County, Fort Scott, Highland and Brown Mackie (Hesston is the fifth team).
Oler, however, is optimistic that this year’s Blue Devil squad – although almost entirely new – can make a run at both the playoffs in Division II and the Jayhawk East title.
“We’ve got more size than we’ve had in recent years and more depth,” says Oler. “I’m excited about Division II, especially the format where the top two teams get byes and then host first round games. This is a good group. We scrimmaged Pratt and Colby and beat them both without Josh Rupprecht. ”
A 6-6 forward from O’Hara and the only returnee who started a game last year, Repprecht had a breakout freshman season, averaging 10.5 points and 5.9 rebounds on a team that finished 19-12.
“He’ll be a good leader,” says Oler. “He’s tough and a great competitor and may play a little more on the wing this year where he’s improved his 3-point shooting.”
The only other returnees are Jordan Banks, a 6-1 guard from Olathe East, who came on strong the second half of the season, averaging 3.8 points and 1.9 rebounds; and 6-6 forward Austin Hughes of Olathe North, who saw limited action. Evan Burns, a 6-2 guard from Bishop Ward, also returns after red-shirting last season. He’ll have two years of eligibility.
Size will come from a quartet of transfers – 6-6 Chris Parker of Schlagle, who came from Allen County; 6-7 Dominique Washington, a former Hogan Prep standout who transferred from Fort Scott; 6-8 Bader Belfekih, a native of Qatar who played last year at Santa Fe Community College in Florida; and 6-10 Evard Atcho of Cugy, Switzerland, a transfer from Northern Oklahoma.
“Washington is a big body who can score around the basket and shoot the three,” says Oler. “An assistant coach at Georgia told us about Belfekih, who is very active and plays hard. Parker has shot the ball well in preseason while Atcho is long and athletic, a great rebounder and shot blocker.”
Atcho, however, will not be eligible until after the Christmas holidays.
A trio of promising point guards head a list of strong freshmen candidates – 6-1 Antonio Winn of Truman, 5-11 D.J. Booker of Blue Springs South; and 6-4 C.J. Vallejo of Bishop Ward.
They will be joined by 6-4 Anthony Lane of Turner, 6-5 Lamonte Burgette of Blue Springs South; and 6-3 Stephen Leimbach of St. James, who will likely redshirt this season. A student at KCKCC last year, Lane excelled in a spring tryout and adds considerable versatility.
Oler said point guards Booker and Winn could both be on the floor at the same time along with Vallejo, a preseason surprise who can also play on the wing. Banks and Burns are the leaders at the off guard positions while Chris Parker and Vallejo will back Rupperecht at the small forward.
“Because we’re so young, we’ll probably do a lot of switching,” says Oler.
Washington, Belfekh, Lane and Hughes are in contention for front line starting positions although Rupperecht may also see some duty inside.
“The key for this team will be to play good half-court defense and offense without turning the ball over,” says Oler.
The Blue Devils will open the season at home against Southeast Nebraska Nov. 6 and then play North Arkansas and Wentworth in the annual Keith Lindsay Classic Nov. 9-10.
“It’s a tough schedule,” says Oler. “Southeast will be a real tough opener and then after the classic we have Barton County (Nov. 13) and then begin regional play against Hesston (Nov. 15).”
Kansas City Kansas Community College: 2011-12 Men’s Basketball Schedule
Nov. 6 – Southeast Nebraska, Home, 7 p.m.
Keith Lindsay Classic
Nov. 9 – Highland vs. Wentworth, 4 p.m.
KCKCC vs. North Arkansas, 8 p.m.
Nov. 10 – Highland vs. North Arkansas, 2 p.m..
KCKCC vs. Wentworth, 6 p.m.
Nov. 13 – Barton County, Home, 7 p.m.
Nov. 15 – Hesston+, Home, 7 p.m.
Nov. 27 – Mid-America Nazarene JV, 7 p.m.
S.E. Nebraska Classic (Beatruce)
Nov. 30 – Southeast Nebraska, 8 p.m.
Dec. 1 – Central Nebraska, 4 p.m.
Dec. 11 – Brown Mackie+, Home, 7 p.m.
Dec. 15 – Highland+, Home, 4 p.m.
Jan. 3 – Brown Mackie+, Away, 7 p.m.
Jan. 5 – Cowley County*, Home, 4 p.m.
Jan. 9 – Johnson County+, Away, 7:30 p.m.
Jan. 16 – Independence*, Away, 8 p.m.
Jan. 19 – Fort Scott+, Away, 4 p.m.
Jan. 21 – Neosho County*, Home, 7 p.m.
Jan. 23 – Allen County*, Home, 7 p.m.
Jan. 26 – Labette*, Away, 4 p.m.
Jan. 30 – Coffeyville*, Away, 8 p.m.
Feb. 2 – Cowley County*, Away, 7 p.m.
Feb. 4 – Hesston+, Away, 8 p.m.
Feb. 6 – Johnson County+, Home, 7 p.m.
Feb. 9 – Highland+, Away, 3 p.m.
Feb. 13 – Independence*, Home, 7 p.m.
Feb. 16 – Fort Scott+, Home, 4 p.m.
Feb. 18 – Neosho County*, Away, 8 p.m.
Feb. 20 – Allen County*, Away, 8 p.m.
Feb. 23 – Labette*, Home, 4 p.m.
Feb. 27 – Coffeyville*, Home, 7 p.m.
March 5 – First round Division II playoffs.
HEAD COACH – Jon Oler, 14th season
ASSISTANT COACHES – Eric Nitsche, Bill Sloan.
PHOTO: KCKCC’s first men’s team to compete in Division II will be made up of (front row, from left) C.J. Vallejo, Evan Burns, D.J. Booker, Jordan Banks and Antonio Winn; (second row) Anthony Lane, Austin Hughes, Lamonte Burgett and Steve Leimbach; (third row) Dominique Washington, Chris Parker, Adam Atcho, Bader Belfikeh and Josh Rupprecht. (KCKCC Photo)