BLUE DEVILS STAGE BIGGEST TURNAROUND – 7 WINS TO 23 IN ONE SEASON
With just 7 players, KCKCC wins nine in a row to finish 20th in Division II national rankings
Like good wine, Kansas City Kansas Community College's Blue Devil basketball team just got better with age in 2014-15.
Despite finishing the season with just seven players, the Blue Devils won nine of their last 10 games, the loss coming just one win from a berth in the NJCAA Division II national tournament. The big finish enabled KCKCC to finish 20th in the national rankings, the first such finish in history.
It was also the biggest turnabout in KCKCC history and by a wide margin. Just 7-25 in Kelley Newton's first year, the Blue Devils finished 23-9 – an improvement of 16 games. They also came within one win of the NJCAA Division II national tournament, losing to Hesston 77-69 in the game that ended KCKCC's 9-game winning streak.
"After a 6-0 start, we had a lot of peaks and valleys that shaped up how we were going to finish," said Newton. That finish included three wins over arch-rival Johnson County, road wins at Brown Mackie and Highland, a 59-58 win over Division I Allen County and a 56-54 defeat of Hesston, the Region VI Division II champion and national tournament qualifier.
"We had seven guys who bought into the system and were committed," said Newton, whose Blue Devils excelled despite losing several players due to injuries and violations of team policies. "We were able to focus without any distractions."
Leadership, says Newton, was provided by the Blue Devils' only three returning veterans, Ray Ridley of Hogan Prep, CJ Vallejo of Bishop Ward and Clay Young of Lansing, although Young suffered a torn ACL in the second game of the season and did not play. "Clay was with the team all the way and was very instrumental in helping the younger players develop," says Newton. "Those were the guys who helped shape us, Ray's leadership in dishing out more than assists was instrumental to our success and CJ found he could be a leader and made big strides in what he wants to be."
Vallejo led the Blue Devils in scoring with a 15.6-point average and earned first team All-Jayhawk and All-Region VI honors. Shooting at a 43.8 percent clip from 3-point, Vallejo's 96 treys tied him for fourth on the all-time single season list. He also was third in assists and rebounding. Ridley led in assists (5.1) and total steals (49) while averaging 6.8 points and 3.1 rebounds to earn All-Jayhawk honorable mention.
Newcomers provided the rest of the offense led by Joe Lendway, Dehven Talley and Babajide Aina. A 6-6 freshman from Lansing, Lendway was second in scoring (13.2) and led in field goal accuracy (.599) and in total rebounds (5.1). "Very solid and consistent all year long, Joe really stepped up as a first-time post player," says Newton.
Talley, a 6-2 guard from SM Northwest, came on strong down the stretch. Averaging 4.9 points a game, he had seven double digit scoring games in his last 13 games. He was also second in 3-pointers. "Dehven got his confidence up and became more of an offensive threat," said Newton.
A transfer from Prairie View A&M, Aina became eligible the Spring Semester and had a huge impact, averaging 9.5 points, 7.8 rebounds, 4.2 assists and 2.5 steals to earn Al-Jayhawk honorable mention in just half a season. "He gave us a bigger guard (6-2) who could defend, rebound, pass and score," said Newton.
LaShawn Lewis, a 6-6 freshman from Chicago, also became eligible the second semester, averaging 5.4 points and 3.0 rebounds in 19 games, while 6-0 frosh Roberto Hernandez of Omaha Bellevue West averaged 5.7 points and 2.2 assists, also in 19 games.
With four returnees – starters Lendway and Talley and backups Lewis and Hernandez – Newton and assistant Joe McKinstry have recruiting well underway for 2015-16.
Three sophomores closed out their KCKCC basketball careers with All-Jayhawk honors, CJ Vallejo (No. 34), a first-team pick, and Babjide Aina (35) and Ray Ridley (11), both named to the honor roll. They were joined in Sophomore Night recognition by (from left) assistant coach Joe McKinstry, injured veteran Clay Young (center), manager Fidelia Ehiawaguan and head coach Kelley Newton. (KCKCC Photo).