Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Promising KCKCC cagers in home opener Saturday


KANSAS CITY, KAN. ----- What a difference a year makes. Last year, Kansas City Kansas Community College’s men’s basketball team had just three home games in November and December.

This year, the Blue Devils are home eight times prior to the holiday break starting with Livin’ the Dream Saturday, Nov. 1, at 4 p.m., and Monday against St. Mary’s JVs at 7 p.m. Of the 30 games on the schedule this season, 17 are at home compared to 11 in last year’s 7-25 campaign.

But an even bigger change can be found in talent. Hired July 8, 2013, Kelley Newton got a late, late start in recruiting in his first season.

“Having a year to recruit makes a difference,” says the former Wyandotte High School and University of Oklahoma standout. “There are three areas in which I wanted to improve – depth, more shooters and better attitudes on a daily basis. With these improvements, this team has worked hard, understands the value of working hard and been very enjoyable to be around.”

Only two sophomores return from Newton’s first squad albeit good ones – point guard Anthony (Ray) Ridley and forward Clay Young. A 5-8 starter from Hogan Prep, Ridley led the Blue Devils in assists with 4.35 per game while averaging 8.9 points while Young, a 6-4 forward from Lansing, was second in scoring (10.0) and rebounding (5.6).

“Ridley is our floor leader; Young our team leader,” says Newton. “Ray has grown a lot as a player and is definitely one of our leaders both on and off the court; Clay is one of our most versatile players and a leader.”

Two other sophomores also figure prominently. A 6-4 forward from Bishop Ward who sat out last season, C.J. Vallejo is being counted on for scoring and rebounding.

“I’m really excited over all the hard work he’s put in the last 1½ years; he’s really improved all aspects of his game,” says Newton.

Devin Ruis, a 6-0 Olathe South grad who transferred from Manhattan Christian, brings excellent shooting range to the squad. “He can dribble, shoot and pass, all the qualities of a good offensive player,” says Newton.

Ridley will be backed at the point guard spot by Roberto Hernandez, a 6-0 freshman from Omaha’s Bellevue West who grew up in Puerto Rico, and 6-0 Andrew Runnels of Del City High in Oklahoma City. “Hernandez is a very crafty point guard who can handle the ball in transition; Runnels is a strong, pesky defender,” says Newton.

Two sharp-shooting teammates at Topeka’s Shawnee Heights, 6-3 Tevin Downing and 6-0 Braeson Sester; and 6-2 Dehven Talley of SM Northwest, will join Ruis at the shooting guard position while 6-5 Austin Hall of Aurora, Colo., and Vallejo figure to give the Blue Devils a solid one-two punch at small forward.

Joe Lendway, a 6-6 freshman who helped lead Lansing to the Class 5A state championship, and 6-7 Armoni Shorter of Crete, Ill., outside of Chicago,  will handle the power forward roles. “Joe Lendway is a winner and will be an anchor for us while I’m real excited about how well Armoni has grown into the position,” says Newton.

The Blue Devils figure to be even better the spring semester when 6-2 guard Babajide Aina, a transfer from Prairie View A&M, and 6-4 wing Brett Hamilton of Mill Valley become eligible. However, KCKCC will be without 6-0 guard Zach Jackson of Lansing, out for the season with a knee injury.

“If we can rebound and stay healthy, we can contend for the region championship,” says Newton. “With so many freshmen, we have a long way to go before we get to that point but if we continue to improve every day, that could become a reality very quickly.”

KCKCC will be competing in two divisions of the Jayhawk Conference. They’ll vie with Brown Mackie, Hesston, Highland, Fort Scott, Johnson County and newcomer Labette for the Division II title while past rivals Independence, Cowley, Coffeyville, Neosho and Allen County are back on the Jayhawk Conference schedule.
PHOTO: Sophomores (from left) Clay Young of Lansing, Anthony (Ray) Ridley of Hogan Prep and C.J. Vallejo of Bishop Ward will provide veteran leadership for a KCKCC basketball team that will open its home season Saturday at 4 p.m. (KCKCC Photo by Alan Hoskins)