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RANGELY I Despite a season beset by loss and injury, the Colorado Northwestern Community College (CNCC) men’s basketball team finished the season strong at the Scenic West Athletic Conference (SWAC) tournament in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, last month.
After a game in January and another in February in which the Snow College Badgers from Ephraim, Utah, beat CNCC by more than 20 points, the Spartans came within three points of the Badgers during a regular season game Feb. 23, losing 66-63.
Then, on Feb. 28, Colorado Northwestern fell short of Snow by just five points, losing the regional tournament game 78-73. Two days later, the Snow College Badgers lost to the Salt Lake Community College (SLCC) Bruins in the SWAC championship game.
“Anybody who was there could have told you the game could have gone either way,” CNCC men’s basketball coach Adrian Hayes said. “We matched right up with them based on the size and skill their players have. The guys finally played at a level that can compete. We’ve had flashes of that all year.”
For CNCC, the road to the SWAC tourney was anything but smooth. The team lost several players, including sophomore forward Riley Parish, early in the season. Then a season-ending knee injury took out sophomore forward Brent Aga at the Thanksgiving tournament in Sheridan, Wyo. The unexpected cuts left nine players to take up the slack.
But those nine players stepped up, some of them big time.
“We took a few hits this year, but the way all the guys bounced back was really impressive,” Hayes said. “The sophomores played so well. Tommy Powers (sophomore guard) got an honorable mention all-conference selection, which is awesome for any CNCC player to get. He stepped up and played really, really well.”
Powers was the second leading scorer in the SWAC, next to Salt Lake Community College’s Skyler Halford, the Scenic West 2012-2013 player of the year and Region 18 most valuable player. Hayes expects that Powers, who just finished a recruiting visit to Western State College, and CNCC’s other graduating sophomores are strong enough to compete in four-year programs.
“I think they can all go play at the next level, and I think all of them will do it,” Hayes said.
With the season over and his sophomores looking ahead to what’s next, Hayes is focusing on next year.
“There’s a lot of promise going into next year,” Hayes said. “We’ll have some key returners like (guards) Thiago Marcello and Ivan Sifuentes. Those guys played a lot of minutes this year. (Forward) Jaxon Knighton will be a great contribution, too.”
Hayes attended last weekend’s Colorado High School Activities Association state basketball tournament and likes what he’s seen from schools like Cherokee Trail and Cherry Creek High School.
“(Recruiting) has gone well this year,” he said. “It’s just a continuous process. We have a good chance to get some quality players next year.”
What CNCC needs is “some size inside the paint” and “more firepower in the guard position,” Hayes said. He’ll know better where the roster stands after tryouts on April 6, but for now, he’s visiting with players and parents, trying to sell the college and the town.
Mostly, he’s anxious to build a men’s basketball team that could just keep getting better.
“I’m a firm believer in finishing something I start,” Hayes said. “In a lot of ways, this program is better than it was before, but I don’t feel like my work is done at this point. To see the heart and blood and guts and determination these guys have, and to know some of them are coming back kind of fuels my fire. We have a chance to be a really good basketball team and I want to be around when that happens.”