Seeking a team to support as the college basketball season begins its stretch run? Try the men’s squad at Kansas City Kansas Community College.
The Blue Devils collected their eighth victory and first in the Jayhawk Conference on Wednesday night, holding off Labette Community College 60-53 in a triumph celebrated with an extra helping of delight.
For the second straight game, KCKCC suited up just six players. Seven teammates were suspended indefinitely last week for an unspecified violation of school policy, leaving the program and Blue Devils coach Kelley Newton with a starting five, one substitution and plenty of seats open on the bench during games.
“It doesn’t matter how many we have,” Newton said. “The mission remains the same. You play hard and try to avoid the silly mistakes.
“But I do have to protect them a little.”
Yes, circumstances dictate adjustments must be made. On Wednesday night, the Blue Devils played a 2-3 zone the entire game to help avoid foul trouble. It worked but things got a little dicey toward the end, when scoring leader and primary ball handler Juwan Davenport collected his fourth infraction with 3:10 remaining. He managed to avoid disqualification.
When a KCKCC player went to the free-throw line, four teammates headed to the other side of the midcourt stripe conceding the rebound to avoid contact.
Offensively, the Blue Devils reduced the game by milking the shot clock. This worked wonderfully early as KCKCC scored the game’s first 17 points.
Then there were the little modifications. The switch from rebounder to shooter in the pregame layup line happened much quicker. During timeouts, a player would grab several cups of water to pass out to teammates. And huddles were an intimate gathering.
Fatigue may have played a role as Labette made a late charge by forcing turnovers from its press. Davenport and Tyson Beringer logged all 40 minutes, Josiah Laws played 37, Malcolm Tate 35, DuVonte Beard 26 and Chance Scott 19.
Only Davenport averaged more than 20 minutes per game before the roster upheaval, and Scott was ticketed for a redshirt season.
Newton has worked shorthanded before. The former sharpshooter who starred at Wyandotte High and played alongside Eduardo Najera and Hollis Price on Kelvin Sampson’s Oklahoma teams has been a coach at several levels for 16 years. His earliest KCKCC teams had reduced rosters.
“I told our guys, you can start with five,” Newton said. “You can finish with four or three, as long as you start five.”
He said he once took five players on a road trip while coaching the Kansas Lady Nuggets, a semi-pro women’s team, and won seven straight games.
Stay away from foul trouble and injuries, play smart, buy in and any roster size can work. For the Blue Devils, the proof came Wednesday.
After the final buzzer sounded, the players celebrated long enough that Newton had to rush them to the handshake line. After that, longtime KCKCC sports information director Alan Hoskins gathered the six at midcourt to snap a photograph.
One detail remained. The players cleaned up the bench area before heading downstairs to a jubilant locker room. The Blue Devils had lost their first game as a six-man squad. There’s a possiblity some players could return, but at the moment those who have played the previous two games are the KCKCC team.
“I’m so proud of these guys,” Newton said. “We talk about doing things the right way, so there are lessons to be taught from this, lessons for the players who are here and the ones who aren’t.”