Ben Conrad took over the Johnson County Community College women’s basketball program in 2008, and only a couple of months before his first practice, he had only four players on the team — not even enough to field a starting lineup. In the ensuing weeks, he scrambled to fill a roster that eventually included nine players.
Eight years later, Conrad recalled his indoctrination into the job as an “ancient” memory. He has developed something of a luxury in a recruiting process — selectivity.
A national championship will do that.
A year after winning the National Junior College Athletic Association championship, the Cavaliers have reloaded. They entered the new year with a 15-0 record, and are again ranked No. 1 in all four NJCAA polls.
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“The greatest challenge at this level is putting it all together, because when you’re at the junior college level, every year you have a puzzle that you have to almost completely re-do,” Conrad said. “I think this group is ahead of schedule. We’ve got five kids that were part of this thing last year, and we’ve added some great freshmen.”
JCCC is aiming for its seventh straight 30-win season. But it’s not just the wins that have made the recruiting process a bit easier. It’s the style of play, too.
The Cavaliers score. A lot. At 85.2 points per game, they rank fifth nationally.
“It’s awesome — so much fun to play like this,” said freshman Austin Richardson, a Lee’s Summit West graduate. “We’re moving the ball around (quickly) and we take smart shots. Everyone has a role. It makes it a lot of fun to play.”
It’s not always an easy adjustment, of course. In fact, freshman Arielle Jackson, a Shawnee Mission Northwest graduate, referred to some of the first days of practice as “brutal” as Conrad prepared his players for an up-tempo system. Most drills are timed with a countdown that shrinks as the season nears.
“I sort of looked around like, ‘This is crazy. We can’t do that,’ ” Jackson said of her first week of practice.
Conrad added: “Every kid tells you they want to play fast. When you get them here, sometimes it’s a different deal. We do some brutal sprinting during drills. It’s an adjustment, just like it would be anywhere else in the country.”
But it’s one that JCCC seems to have made quickly this season. Again.
The Cavaliers are shooting 47.2 percent from the field, and they’ve extended their winning streak to 27 games dating back to last season.
“A lot of us have big shoes to fill from last season, but that’s why I wanted to come here,” Richardson said. “I wanted to win a national championship and experience that on my own.”