Winning the most games in program history, playing in the third region tournament in program history, and finishing fourth in the NJCAA Division III tournament validate that Central Lakes College has become one of the state’s top programs.
Those 2011-12 accomplishments have earned the Raiders the No. 5 ranking in the Division III preseason poll as they prepare to open the season at home Friday night against United Tribes (N.D.) on the first day of the CLC Fall Classic.
“There’s a few things we do every year that are expected,” Raiders coach Jim Russell said. “One, when we step on the court we compete. We work harder, probably, than most teams work. Two, we play the game of team ball. I think those are some of the reasons that kids come here, and I think those are the reasons we’ve had the success we’ve had here.”
One starter, four sophomores in all, return from last season’s 29-4 campaign. Brandon Davis started and averaged 10 points, 6 rebounds and 3 assists per game.
Other sophomores back include 6-5 Kevin Kuefler, 6-2 Kahreem Horsley and 6-7 Brent Koehler. Kuefler started the first six games, averaging 7 points and 8 rebounds, before tearing an ACL and missing the rest of the season. Koehler averaged 3 points and 2 rebounds and Horsley averaged 3 points.
“The sophomores we have are very good kids that understand the game, have played the game and play the style we like,” Russell said. “That’s why they’re back. The experience they had last year will help us.
“All four are in different roles this year than last. This year, they will be (asked) to do more on the court and off the court. Their leadership goes both ways.”
Among the freshmen, Russell expects three posts/forwards to make an immediate impact, including 6-5 Bryan Gichaba (Osseo), 6-6 John Jedneak (Princeton) and 6-7 Herbert Tarpeh (St. Michael-Albertville).
“Bryan’s won a state title,” Russell said. “He brings a definite understanding of how to win and how to compete.
“Jedneak, I don’t think we’ve had a gentleman who works as hard as he does on the court. We’re very excited about him. He’s very athletic.
“The other big man we’re excited about is Herbert. He also works very hard. He’s trying to learn the game, trying to learn our system.”
Tyler Flugum (6-1, Forest City, Iowa) will challenge for a shooting guard spot.
“He will probably make a big impact because he can shoot the basketball,” Russell said. “You always need somebody to sink the ball in the hole. He’s a great shooter.”
Point guard candidates include Benji Subah (5-8, Osseo) and Chicagoans Marcus Brown (5-11) and Andre Thomas (5-8).
“All three give us something different,” Russell said. “We’ll see how they grow and develop. They have good quickness and they’re decent ballhandlers.”
Russell said Taylor Mykleby, a 6-10, 270-pound freshman from Arizona, may be the biggest surprise of preseason camp.
“He played high school ball, but he didn’t play a lot,” Russell said.
The coach expects 6-2 Nathan Holm of Pine River-Backus to contribute.
“Nathan’s learning the game in community college is definitely at another level than Pine River-Backus High School,” Russell said. “It’s a lot quicker, more physical. There are some pretty athletic kids out there.
“Nathan’s learning and adjusting very well to the game. He’s a threat. He knows how to put the ball in the basket because he averaged quite a bit as a senior.”
Jordan Burns (6-4) of Browerville is another player Russell expects will contribute.
“Jordan’s older, and he wanted an opportunity to play basketball,” Russell said. “He was a very good player in high school. He’s fundamentally sound. He can probably play inside or outside. We’re hoping he can step up and take some minutes there.”
Twelve Raiders will play college basketball for the first time.
“This is probably the youngest team I’ve ever had,” Russell said, “so we’re back to learning a lot about fundamentals, back to learning what level of play we need to be at.
“I’ve probably done more coaching in the last month than I have probably in the last 10 years. With that being said, my assistant coaches tell me every day the pieces are here, at least they’re here, and we have to coach them, and that’s what we’re trying to do.”
■ After two years in the Southern Division, CLC returns to the North.
■ Former Raider player Scott Savor returns to the program as an assistant and strength and conditioning coach. He played at CLC in 1997-98, Russell’s first season at CLC.
“Scott’s been around the world,” Russell said. “He’s been very good for us, he’s brought a lot of positive energy. He’s well respected within the team. He’s a motivator. We’re excited about Scott coming back and helping us out, especially with his background.”
No., name, position, ht, high school, year
1-Benji Subah, G, 5-8, Osseo, 1
3-Marcus Brown, G, 5-11, Corliss (Ill.) 1
5-Andre Thomas, G, 5-8, Hope (Ill.) 1
11-Nathan Holm, G, 6-2, Pine River-Backus, 1
15-Tyler Flugum, G, 6-1, Forest City (Iowa) 1
22-Kevin Kuefler, G/F, 6-5, Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa, 2
23-Bryan Gichaba, G/F, 6-5, Osseo, 1
24-Darryl Mitchel, G, 6-0, Robbinsdale Cooper, 1
25-Brandon Davis, G, 6-6, Champlin Park, 2
31-Kahreem Horsley, G, 6-2, Bloomington North (Ind.) 2
33-John Jedneak, G/F, 6-6, Princeton, 1
35-Jordan Burns, G, 6-4, Browerville, 1
41-Herbert Tarpeh, F, 6-7, St. Michael-Albertville, 1
43-Alex Stafford, F, 6-7, Henry Sibley, 1
44-Brent Koehler, F, 6-7, Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa, 2
55-Taylor Mykleby, F, 6-10, Westview (Avondale, Ariz.) 1
MIKE BIALKA, sports editor, may be reached at 855-5861. Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/bertsballpark.