Entering the 2001-2002 basketball season, Central Lakes College Raiders men's head coach Jim Russell isn't looking to deft outside shooting or a suffocating defense to carry his team to the postseason.
Instead, he'll rely on other intangibles, such as leadership, experience and team unity to turn last year's 12-12 record into a run at the Minnesota Community College Conference state championship.
This weekend, the Raiders open the season when they travel to Mankato to play in the Bethany Lutheran Tournament. In addition to playing the host team, the Raiders will also face Waldorf, Iowa. Both schools have scholarship players, while the Raiders do not.
"The reason we're playing in this tournament is that we want to face good competition," Russell said. "I feel we have a good shot at winning the tournament. This will be a good measuring stick for us."
Russell and the rest of the Raiders have high expectations for this season.
"We have worked hard in the offseason lifting weights and conditioning," Russell said. "We also have good leadership on and off the court. We expect to make the postseason."
One reason for the high expectations is that the Raiders are returning a more seasoned lineup from a year ago with seven sophomores returning. Russell is hoping the sophomores, and the experience they bring to the court, will translate into more wins.
"Experience is our biggest strength," Russell said.
One player he will be looking to lead the team is sophomore guard Joel Clough of Brainerd.
Clough has taken on a leadership role and looks at the team's closeness as a positive.
"I want the leadership role and the responsibility that goes along with it," Clough said. "Team unity is a lot better this year. We're one group."
Even though there can only be five starters, Russell believes all 15 players can step in and contribute on a nightly basis. The main challenge Russell sees is making sure each player understands his role.
Both Russell and Clough point to the bond that has been established between the players and coaches in the offseason as positive building blocks for the regular-season grind. Participating in community services and having team barbecues are just a few of the activities the team participated in to strengthen that bond.
The Raiders will also be taking a trip to Kansas to play in a tournament Nov. 23-24.
"This is a very close team," Russell said. "This team is very coachable and it has been a very enjoyable experience to be with them."
The Raiders know that talent and athleticism are ingredients to a team's success. But mixing in their talents with the team's experience and leadership will be the keys for a run at a conference championship.
Sophomores -- Adam Walker 6-0 guard (St. James), Garth McFadden 6-2 wing (Buffalo), Joel Clough 6-0 guard (Brainerd), Travis Janich 6-2 wing (Moorhead), Reid Kuschel 6-7 wing (Crosby-Ironton), Jay Mrozek 6-6 wing (St. Cloud Tech), Brandon Flanders 6-5 wing (Miami Central)
Freshmen -- Donald Byrd 6-0 guard (Miami Central), Damien Perry 5-10 guard (Minneapolis Edison), Daryl Burch 5-10 guard (St. Paul Arlington), Justin Heitkamp 6-3 wing (Brainerd), Tony Monson 6-5 forward (White Bear Lake), Jermaine McGruther 6-5 forward (Muskegon, Mich.), John Norquist 6-8 forward (Roseville), Ryan Bouma 6-6 forward (Lakeville)
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