The success of the Central Lakes College Raiders men's basketball team has paralleled the success of freshman wing Dwayne Mabon.
The 6-foot-5 guard/forward/center was the Northern Division Player of the Week two weeks ago when he averaged 14 points and 14 rebounds in two Raider wins and has scored 27 and 19 points in victories over archrival Fergus Falls on Feb. 12 and Feb. 17.
His play has catapulted CLC to the Northern Division's No. 2 seed in this weekend's Minnesota Community College Conference state tournament in Mankato. The Raiders face Rochester, third-seeded in the Southern Division, at 3 p.m. Friday.
"(Raiders) coach (Jim Russell) told us at the beginning (the season) is a puzzle and we have to put it together," said Mabon, who is among CLC's leaders in points, rebounds, assists, steals and free throw percentage. "In the middle of the season, we looked around the room and we knew we had every piece we needed.
"We won some big games and we knew we were tough to stop. Especially when we beat Fergus Falls there, we knew there wasn't anything to worry about."
Mabon has been especially effective lately because he can play any position on the floor. As a high school standout at Minneapolis Edison, he played strictly center. But because of his athleticism, Russell wanted him on the perimeter.
"It's been a big switch for him playing on the perimeter," said Russell, whose team is currently on a six-game win streak. "We started playing him inside and outside right away. With his athletic ability and defense, he could stop a lot of people on the perimeter and he can really take the ball to the basket."
That transition hasn't been easy, though.
"I could have played inside but Daakarr (Bellfield) and Lance (Redetzke) were playing so well," said Mabon, who has also developed a deadly three-point jump shot. "At the beginning of the season it wasn't going very well. But I worked on it and it just started coming to me."
Mabon has also assumed part-time point guard responsibilities, along with Dave Hurst and Darren Gray. Mabon is averaging six assists per game in Northern Division play.
"A big key for us is he handles the ball a lot," Russell said. "He has realized he doesn't have to do everything for us. He's starting to see what team play is all about. He's become an all-around player."
Mabon and his teammates face the Yellowjackets (7-5 division, 15-9 overall) in the first round and then play either Anoka-Ramsey (10-2, 22-2) or Hibbing (3-7, 6-18) in the second.
The Raiders (8-2, 15-9) beat Rochester 81-77 in December. In that game, Mabon hit two free throws with five seconds left and Redetzke recorded 23 points.
"Rochester is a strong team and it seemed like they had been playing together for a long time," Mabon said.
The Yellowjackets went on the road last week and beat Minnesota West (Worthington) and Minneapolis, both state tournament teams, to clinch a state berth. Russell has stressed defense to his team all season and if the Raiders are to beat Rochester, he said that will be just as important as ever.
Said Russell: "They shoot the ball very well. They always are very fundamentally sound and are very strong. They have a great inside game and rebound the ball very well. They just do not make a lot of mistakes."
Vermilion and Anoka-Ramsey won their respective divisions so they automatically qualify for the Region 13 tournament. The next highest finisher at state, in addition to those two teams, also receives a bid to the region.
And, with the confidence the Raiders have amassed in their current winning streak, they're as good a pick as anybody to earn a region bid.
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