When you log on to the National Junior College Athletic Association website and the first thing you see is a picture of people you know from Creston watching a Southwestern Community College basketball game, you realize this group of young men is doing something quite remarkable.
The SWCC men’s basketball team has a strong hold on the No. 1 ranking in NJCAA Division II basketball, sitting at 23-0 overall and 6-0 in the Iowa Community College Athletic Conference.
The players I talked to Saturday after a win over North Iowa Area Community College are thinking nothing short of a national championship. That would be a huge thing for SWCC as an institution and the community of Creston.
But, one step at a time. And, the next step is a big one. The Spartans travel to Cedar Rapids Saturday for a big test. Kirkwood is 18-4, 5-1 in league play, and ranked 12th in the nation.
Last year Kirkwood, Southwestern and Iowa Lakes tied for the regional title — SWCC’s first such accomplishment since Bill Taylor’s team in 1997 — and Kirkwood went on to win the national championship over Triton College to finish a 31-4 season. SWCC (25-6) was upset by seventh-seeded NIACC in the regional opener.
The architect of this tremendous assembly of talent is third-year coach Todd Lorensen, son of veteran Prairie City-Monroe coach Fred Lorensen. Despite not being hired until August prior to the 2014-15 season, his Spartan teams have gone 71-16 overall and 22-8 in league play. They are no longer the “little brother” to traditional powerhouses Kirkwood and DMACC.
This team is a terrific mix of returning veterans — Jordan Johnson, KeShawn Wilson and Calvin Chambers earned all-league honors last year — with new recruits and several key transfers.
Jamil Maddred started for Marshalltown Community College as a freshman and played against the Spartans. But the native of Camden, New Jersey, decided to come to SWCC with friend and teammate Terence Shelby. Lorensen had a relationship with Shelby’s high school coach and when Shelby decided to switch to SWCC, Maddred came along.
Maddred and Brodric Thomas, a transfer from Truman State — where Lorensen once served as an assistant — are the tallest of the starters at 6-foot-5. But, like the rest of the starting five, they’re listed as guards.
All five starting players for SWCC are perimeter type players, but those two and the athletic 6-2 Wilson are all capable rebounders and defenders around the basket. And, they’re matchup nightmares for teams with more traditional post players.
“Usually teams start two bigs, so if we have a mismatch we use it that night,” Thomas said. “When they have to come out and guard guys like me and Jamil, it’s tough for them.”
Southwestern averages 94.8 points per game and has made 262 3-pointers in 23 games. All five starters average between 9.1 and 14.8 points per game.
Depth is a big part of Southwestern’s success. Khalid Edwards, Lavon Hightower, Alijah Thomas, Malachi Canada and Bennie Curtis all log major minutes and could start for other teams in the league. In fact, Canada did have some big games for Iowa Central as a freshman before transferring.
“It all starts in practice,” Thomas said. “Our bench is so deep that we can really battle each other. It makes us better every single day, and really prepares us for tough competition.”
Maddred, who led the team Saturday with 20 points and four 3-pointers, echoed those sentiments.
“We play a strong 10 people and any of those could have a great night,” Maddred said. “Tonight just happened to be my night.”
Lorensen said the scoring balance creates difficulties for teams preparing for Southwestern. There are weapons all over the court, and they come in and out at a rate that wears down teams with rotations of fewer players.
“We have a very deep team,” Lorensen said. “They have all bought into the process of being part of a winning team and program.”
NIACC coach Mark Mohl saw his team get run over by the Spartans Saturday, 91-55. He came away impressed.
“The basketball really moves,” he said. “They just keep running them off the bench and they can all shoot it. We were down 20 before we knew what hit us. Somebody will have to play really, really well to beat Southwestern.”
The SWCC women (12-9) are also having one of their best seasons in many years under coach Addae Houston. Remaining women-men doubleheaders are Feb. 15, Feb. 18 and Feb. 25. Regional tourney dates are March 7, 9 and 11 and the higher seed hosts each game. If the community came out and packed the SWCC gym it could become a significant home court advantage.
It’s a show worth seeing.
“The support we have received on campus, the community of Creston, southwest Iowa and alums from all over has been nothing short of spectacular,” Lorensen said. “I never would have imagined something this exciting could have happened to our program. I’m very proud of our success and I’m excited for the rest of the season.”
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