As I sat in the empty Central Lakes College bleachers before a scrimmage between the Raiders and Northland in early November, CLC assistant coach Chris Costello filled my ear about each Raider player and how talented this year's team was.
But I needed concrete facts. I needed to see for myself if this team was for real or just a pretender.
It wasn't long after that conversation that I got the facts I needed and understood what Costello was talking about.
On Nov. 25, 2003, CLC hosted perennial powerhouse Fergus Falls, a team that throttled the Raiders three times the year before. CLC handed the Spartans a 73-71 loss and a week later beat Fergus again, on its home court, by four.
I remember thinking if the Raiders could beat Fergus Falls on the road then they would be legit.
They did that and more.
CLC went on to win games against Division I and II opponents as well as going on the road and getting wins at notoriously tough gyms like Rainy River, Northland and Mesabi. The Raiders also swept the season series from Vermilion, the first time they've done that since the 1997-98 season.
The Raiders went on to win the North Division while compiling a 20-4 record.
CLC will host the Region 13 tournament Friday and Saturday, a tournament it hasn't played in for 37 years.
Region 13 tournament
At Central Lakes College, Brainerd
Fergus Falls vs. Milwaukee Area Tech, 6 p.m.
Central Lakes College vs. Mesabi Range, 8 p.m.
At Central Lakes College
The Raiders will face Mesabi Range, a team they've beaten twice this season, at 8 p.m. Friday. Fergus Falls will square off against the Milwaukee Area Tech Stormers at 6 p.m.
There have been bumps in the road this season. In fact, just last weekend, the Raiders lost two straight games at the MCCC state tournament, a less than impressive showing for the state's top-ranked team.
But, if history is any indication, the Raiders are poised to bounce back. The last time CLC lost consecutive games was Dec. 20 and Jan. 9, only to go on a 13-game winning streak after that.
What is striking about this CLC team is what it has accomplished without a superstar player.
Instead, the Raiders have a bunch of role players, like forwards Mike Pater and Chris Metcalf. These two are punch-the-clock-and-go-to-work type players who grab rebounds and play defense.
Then there's point guard Andy Schmitz and shooting guard Travis Krenske. They're long-range snipers who will tear an opponent's heart out with timely threes. Schmitz is shooting 47 percent from behind the arc while Krenske is burying 43 percent of his threes.
Forward Ron Jackson is the type of player opposing coaches hate to prepare for. The 6-foot-7 Jackson can ignite a crowd with a dunk or step outside and bury a three. He also ranks in the top three on the team in rebounds (4.0) and assists (3.2).
When CLC brings brutish forward Leonard Langdon and fearless guard Deejay Mayfield off the bench, many opponents can't counter that talent.
The 6-4, 250-pound Langdon, who leads CLC in scoring with 13.2 points a game, has quickness and leaping ability that many players his size can't match. And, Mayfield is dangerous from anywhere on the court, whether he has the ball in his hands or not.
Does all of this mean CLC is headed for its first national tournament in 55 years? With the Raiders playing in the comforts of their own gym they're hard to bet against.
Even for a guy who believes in concrete facts.
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