Dustin Monson will never be a teen heartthrob.
A Will Kornbaum sighting does not incite riots.
Ryan Peeters can walk the halls at Central Lakes College in Brainerd hassle free.
The lack of A-list credentials, however, hasn't stopped the three sophomores from making the Raider men's basketball team a hot ticket.
They've accomplished this without the flash of other Minnesota College Athletic Conference players - even some on their own team.
Dustin Monson, a Pierz graduate, is second on the Central Lakes College Raiders with a 63.6 field goal percentage. Brainerd Dispatch/ Kelly Humphrey » Purchase reprints of this photo.
But Raiders head coach Jim Russell has worked tirelessly to attract players, like those three, and wouldn't trade their leadership, work ethic and productivity for another player in the MCAC.
Why, when all CLC has done since the group's arrival is win?
"They play the game the right way," said Russell. "That puts pressure on the freshmen to learn how to play it the right way, too.
"These sophomores have been great. Not just on the basketball court, but with recruitment in the local area, out in the community, plus they're great students. You can't ask for anything more than that."
Russell has been asking since he arrived at CLC 11 years ago. He struggled to intrigue the area's top talent and even area basketball fans.
Finally, it all came together.
The three sophomores, along with Crosby-Ironton's C.J. Peeters and Dusty Parker of Little Falls, made up the largest recruiting class of local players Russell has secured and it's been a public relations dream.
"There is definitely a bigger following," said Russell. "Even if they don't make it to our games, they know who we are. They ask questions about us. It took a while for people to care.
Sophomore Ryan Peeters of New York Mills has helped the Raiders to a 2-0 start in Northern Division play. Brainerd Dispatch/ Kelly Humphrey » Purchase reprints of this photo.
"Now I see we're getting more and more kids involved. More community people are getting to the games. It's growing. It's getting better, but we also know it's about us when it comes to the game."
Enter Monson, a 6-foot-6 post from Pierz; Peeters, a 6-5 post from New York Mills; and Kornbaum, a 6-3 point guard from Little Falls.
As freshmen the trio helped the Raiders to state and regional championships and a spot in the NJCAA Division III national tournament in New York.
This year their leadership and talent have the Raiders at 11-3 overall, 2-0 in the Northern Division.
Landing Peeters and Monson was easier than Kornbaum. Peeters had an older brother who played for Russell. Monson is not the first Pierz graduate to play for Russell so he had some insight. Kornbaum had no clue.
"I had never seen a Juco game before, ever," said Kornbaum. "I didn't really even know about CLC until Russell called me. I had no idea what it was or how competitive it could be.
"Once I got in there I realized there are some real athletes playing here and around the state. It's not something to be taken lightly. Juco is good basketball."
Kornbaum is the first Little Falls native to play basketball for Russell. He said people in Little Falls, just 30 minutes south of Brainerd, are still naive to the brand of basketball the Raiders play, but added they're interested. He said he's constantly asked how the season is going.
"I think, in the future, if Russell can get more Little Falls guys it will build more knowledge and fans in the Little Falls area," said Kornbaum, who described the Raiders as tenacious and raw.
Will Kornbaum of Little Falls is a starting guard for the Raiders, 11-3 overall. Brainerd Dispatch/ Kelly Humphrey » Purchase reprints of this photo.
Peeters added heart. He said the biggest reason for the team's success was accepting roles.
"To get these guys to mesh was easy," said Russell. "The bottom line is we all have the same goal and that's to win.
"Why we've been successful, and maybe these guys don't realize it, but they're willing to give up a little bit of their ego and these (freshmen) have to give up a little bit of their ego to make us come together. I'm not sure ego is the right word, but if we can do that, we're going to be successful not just on the basketball court, but off it, too."
Nine new recruits fill the Raider roster. It hasn't taken long for the sophomores to sell the newcomers on what works at CLC.
"Everybody has something different to offer," Monson said. "If you can learn from what every specific person has to offer then we can build on every unique ability. We can be a pretty amazing team."
A team is what Russell is after. So when Peeters said the highlight of his CLC career has been the camaraderie and not going to the national tournament, Russell can sit back, smile and sigh a big "finally."
jeremy millsop, sports writer, may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 855-5856.
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