Central Lakes College had everything Joe Kavanaugh was looking for in a college. In the fall and spring he'd get to play golf while in the winter he'd play basketball for the Raiders. And, as an added bonus, the Pillager native would get to do it in front of his friends and family.
Little did Kavanaugh know but he was walking into a program where post players are regularly rewarded for their hard work. In each of the past four years a CLC post player has led the team in scoring.
But when Kavanaugh, who plays forward, came to CLC he wasn't sure where he'd end up playing since he was one of the smallest post players. Through hard work he started much of last season as a freshman. This season he's been a regular starter and is putting up solid numbers.
Joe Kavanaugh tried to find a way through the Itasca defense. Brainerd Dispatch/Steve Kohls
"I'm kind of undersized for the post," said Kavanaugh. "But once I got into the system it was great. We don't design plays for one or two players. Everyone gets to touch the ball and has opportunities to score. But once I get the ball in the post they keep feeding me until I get double teamed and then I kick it out."
The Raiders had been devoid of a consistent post presence this season but in two pivotal North Division games, Kavanaugh rose to the top.
On the road against rival Vermilion on Jan. 13 Kavanaugh scored 23 points and grabbed 10 rebounds. Last Friday versus Rainy River Kavanaugh scored 21 points and collected 13 boards. On the season he's averaging 11.1 points and a team-high 7.6 rebounds per game.
"Joe decided to take some accountability for that position," Raiders coach Jim Russell said. "Somebody had to step up and he wasn't afraid to take that challenge on. There's no quit in Joey and that's why his game has taken off."
Kavanaugh has battled through two sprained ankles and continues to play despite it not being 100 percent. He missed three games with the injury but the time off helped him reevaluate his role on the team.
"I just decided that once I got back out on the court I was going to take advantage of any scoring opportunities that came my way," said Kavanaugh. "Now I'm being more assertive and I'm looking to score a little more. I just like to play within the game and a lot of times I get easy layups off assists from teammates."
School: Central Lakes College
Russell has always recruited area talent but when he landed Kavanaugh he knew he was getting a high quality player and person. The two first met when Kavanaugh took a class from Russell post-secondary and it didn't take long for Russell to see Kavanaugh was the kind of student-athlete to build around.
"In any kind of system or program you have to have your backbone," Russell said. "I knew when I recruited Joe he'd be the backbone of this team. He gives us all we ask of him, both on and off the court. I knew I'd be getting someone who had a great work ethic and integrity."
One of the perks of playing at CLC for Kavanaugh these past two years is always having a friendly face in stands to talk to after games.
"My parents haven't missed a game of mine yet," said Kavanaugh. "Every once in a while I get my aunts and uncles at games and some of my buddies come over to see me play. Every game I have somebody to go say 'Hi' to. One of the reasons I came to CLC was so I could be at home with my family."
TROY GUNDERSON can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5865.
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