Cougars prepare for upcoming basketball season
     2014-08-07      By The Gering Citizen   
SCOTTSBLUFF — WNCC returns five experienced players from a year ago which includes three starters and has complemented those returners with what he says may be the deepest team he has coached at WNCC.

“With the experience we have returning and the talent we have coming in this is easily the deepest team I have coached since I have been here,” coach Russell Beck said. “Every player on the roster can impact the game. We plan to pick up the pressure defensively and extend our defense full court this season. With this depth we can wear some teams down. Practices will be very competitive, it will be a war.”

The 10 newcomers to the program include Damion Rashford, a 6-foot-5 redshirt sophomore Division I transfer from Canada. The other nine players are all freshmen and include 6-4 guard Chad Owens and 6-2 guard Chase Mason of Houston, Texas; the 6-7 Lakeith Ingram of Hartsville, South Carolina; 6-2 Michael Conner, Jr. of Salisbury, North Carolina; 6-6 Jordan Darger of Orem Utah; 6-0 Marquinn Walton of Compton, California; 7-1 Davis Carter of Denver; Deng Kuany of Brookfield, Australia; and 6-3 Bo McVay of Mitchell.

This year’s recruiting class has size, quickness, strength and athleticism and should be a good mix to the five returners – Tyler Crosbie, Preston Christensen), Jalen Griffiths, Diante Mitchell, and Julio Guity.

The Cougars’ incoming freshmen include the four players that are 6-7 or taller. Beck is excited for the four young men.

Carter played his high school ball at Denver School of Science and Technology and then spent a year at Bridgton Academy in Maine.

“An assistant from the University of Colorado, whom is a friend of mine, called me about helping a 7 footer that they have some interest in find a place to play,” Beck said. “They have interest in him but no scholarship. He held numerous Division II offers and even a couple of Division I offers but was interested in playing at a higher level and felt like the junior college route might help him get there. He was being recruited by Gillette, North Platte and Sheridan, but he ended up feeling like WNCC was the best fit for him.”

Beck said Carter has some great years of basketball ahead of him.

“He did not play basketball competitively until his senior year in High School. He has shown rapid improvement in the last two years,” he said. “He played at a very elite Prep School back east and saw good competition. He has great hands and is a good athlete and really attacks the rim. We are committed to helping him continue to develop into an elite player. He already has the size and good strength, he just needs the experience.”

Kuany averaged 14.8 points and 7.1 rebounds a game for the Waverley Youth Basketball Club in Victoria, Australia. Beck sees Kuany as a player to watch.

“I got a call from a friend of mine, whom is an assistant at Long Beach State and had seen Kuany workout while he was recruiting in Australia,” Beck said. “Deng has size and athleticism and is one of the best prospects coming out of Australia to play college ball this year. He is a scorer, he can bounce the ball and create his own shot. He is a legitimate talent and has a shot of being a special player here.”

Beck said Ingram is pure energy, where he averaged a double-double at Hartsville High School, pouring in 18 points and 13 rebounds a game. He also had 2.4 blocks a game.

“He comes from a very successful program and has a state championship to show for it,” Beck said. “He is a big athlete that can stand at the front of our full court pressure. He can really rebound and attack the offensive glass and loves to finish on the rim.”

The “smaller” players have plenty of athletic ability. Michael Connor, Jr., comes to WNCC from the same hometown as former Cougar and ex-NBA great Bobby Jackson. Connor averaged 16.7 points at North Rowan High and was apart two teams that played for the state title, taking home the championship once. Beck said many people say he is in the same mold of what Jackson was in high school.

“We are very fortunate to get Michael,” he said. “He actually contacted us early in the spring indicating his interest and letting us know that he knew that Bobby Jackson had played here. It’s not every day that an all-stater from South Carolina calls you and says I want to be a part of your program.

“His high school coach, who was a college assistant, tried to recruit Bobby Jackson out of high school back in the day. He sees in Michael the same heart and size and skills that a young Bobby Jackson had. He told us that if Michael remains focused and works on his game that the sky is the limit. We are counting on that.”

Owens and Mason both came from Houston, where assistant Coach Louis Truscott is from. Owens attended Westfield High where he averaged 16 points, seven rebounds, and four assists a game. Mason comes to the Cougars from Clear Brook High where he averaged 14.9 points, 3.7 rebounds, and 2.1 steals a game.

Beck likes what these two bring to the program.

“We turned Coach Truscott loose on the recruiting trail and where better for him to find two quality guards then back home in Texas,” Beck said. “Owens, has great size and athleticism and is a silky smooth scorer. He can shoot the three, slash to the basket, defend and pass. He has a real shot to be a special player here.”

“Mason reminds me a lot of Scott Bamforth, who played here at WNCC and later went on to star at Weber State and is now playing pro ball overseas. He shoots it like Scott. Mason has deep range and can get his shot off quick. He will help stretch the floor and attract a lot of attention. We will try to put him in a position to do his thing.”

Rashford has the potential to put up a lot of points. Rashford comes to WNCC from University of Loyola Maryland via Westwind Prep in Arizona, where he averaged 18.8 points and 6.5 rebounds a game.

“Rashford reminds me a lot of Geddes Robinson, who played for me in my first year at WNCC and is now playing pro ball overseas,” Beck said. “Geddes was so versatile as an undersized power forward so, me comparing Rashford to Geddes, is the ultimate compliment. Rashford can bounce it, bruise down low, and step out and shoot.”

Walton is a player that can bring plenty of depth to the guard position. Beck said he will be a plus to the program.

“I got a call from my buddy at the University of Utah. He told me that Andre Miller had called them trying to help find a place for his cousin to play,” Beck said. “Andre starred at the University of Utah and has enjoyed a 14-year career in the NBA. We didn’t know what to expect when Walton came on his visit. We were pleasantly surprised as we found a guard that could handle, create, shoot, finish at the rim and had great poise. He comes from a rough neighborhood and is trying to use basketball to better his life and get an education. He will have an impact as a freshman.”

The last recruit is McVay, who will greyshirt this season but Beck likes what McVay could bring to the program.

“I kept my eye on Bo over the past couple years,” he said. “He is tough, he can shoot it, and most importantly he has the right kind of character. We sat down and discussed how spending a year practicing with the team will give him the opportunity to continue to play basketball, stay close to home and get better as a player. I am excited to see how Bo attacks this opportunity. I know that not only will he improve, but that he is going to make his teammates better by pushing them every day.”

The Cougars open official practice on Oct. 1 and their first games will be at home for the first Wyobraska Classic with WNCC and EWC hosting home games on Oct. 31 and Nov. 1.

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