The Central Lakes College Raiders men’s basketball team set a school record by winning 26 games in 2010-11.
Despite that achievement the Raiders never got out of the state tournament. They lost only three games but the final defeat, 72-63 administered by Anoka-Ramsey, occurred in the state semifinals.
“This might sound goofy to some people after going 26-3 but I’m more motivated this year than I was last year,” CLC coach Jim Russell said. “The big reason is I didn’t like the way we ended last year. It was a great season, but the purpose of this group and our coaching staff is to try and get to nationals.”
Russell has 17 players on the roster heading into Tuesday night’s opener at Northland in Thief River Falls.
“This is the first time I’ve kept this many guys,” he said, “and the reasoning is they’re a bunch of guys who work hard, who do well on and off the court. They want to be part of this team. If that’s what they’re willing to do, and they’re willing to play their role, I'm not going to push a guy to move on.”
The Raiders return one starter, 6-3 Kwamaine Johnson.
“Kwamaine started every game but two,” Russell said. “His specialty last year was defensive guy, kind of a defensive stopper. He did all the grunt work. We’re excited for him this year because he’s probably going to take a different role. He’s going to take more of a leadership role and a scoring role, and continue to do what he's good at, the defensive end.”
Maurice Hernandez, 6-4 sophomore from St. Paul, and Ronnie Kornbaum, a 6-1 sophomore from Little Falls, were top reserves last season.
“Maurice averaged about 10 points a game coming off the bench,” Russell said. “He has a great basketball IQ. He plays with pretty good toughness. He won’t back down from anybody. We’re looking for him to do what he did last year but also be a leader on this team.
“Ronnie’s a natural leader. He does well off and on the court. We’re probably going to ask him to do some pretty good scoring. He’s going to be our shooting guard.”
Cody Hofmann, a sophomore from Cottage Grove, returns to CLC after a one-year absence.
“Cody was a backup to Marcus Ayala two years ago,” Russell said. “It was a great combination, having Marcus and him. He’s another one of those guys who play with a lot passion. He’s a true point guard in a sense of understanding his role. He’s a big communicator. He knows what defense and offense we’re running.”
Six players are competing for starting positions or to be the top reserves.
Jesse Fleming, is a 6-6 sophomore from Phoenix College.
“Jesse played one year there,” Russell said. “He’s very athletic. He loves defense so he’s my kind of guy. He’s going to share a lot of minutes on defense and the rebounding end.”
Alonzo Williams, a 5-9 sophomore from Minneapolis, transferred from North Iowa Community College where he played two years ago.
“He might be one of the quickest athletes we’ve ever had here, from one end of the court to the other,” Russell said. “He plays with great energy. We’re hoping he gives us a spark.”
Kevin Kuefler is a 6-5 graduate of Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa, the 2011 Class 1A runner-up.
“He was all-state, all-conference,” Russell said. “Last year he averaged about 20 points a game. He’s a good catch for us. He’s a good student, a good basketball player. We’re very fortunate to get him.”
Michael Lindsay, a 6-6 freshman from Becker, red-shirted at Valley City State last year.
“We recruited him out of high school,” Russell said. “He can play perimeter, inside, we have a lot of options with him.”
Brandon Davis is a 6-6 freshman from Champlin Park, where he was coached by Brainerd High School graduate Mark Tuchscherer.
“Mark was a big help in us getting Brandon up here,” Russell said. “Brandon has only played two years of organized basketball but he’s got huge upside. He’s 6-6, athletic, can shoot a little bit, can put the ball on the floor. His athletic ability is pretty amazing, plus he's just learning how to play the game.”
Michael Farrington is a 6-foot freshman.
“Michael transferred from Winona State,” Russell said. “He will be our point guard. We’re really excited to see what he can do in a game. He might be one of the best ballhandlers I’ve ever had. That’s saying quite a lot with the success we’ve had at point guard. He’s a true point guard. Usually you find combo guards. It wouldn’t be a surprise to me if he led the league in assists and probably steals. He has unbelievable hands and quickness.”