Kansas City Kansas Community College men's basketball will have a new look in Kelley Newton's third season as head coach – big guys.
Headed by two 6-foot-9 freshmen, the Blue Devil squad will boast a total of nine players scaling 6-5 or better when the Blue Devils open the season Monday with a 7 p.m. home game against Saint Mary JV. In addition, the Blue Devils will host KC Kryptonite in a full-game scrimmage Saturday following the KCKCC-Sterling women's game at 4 p.m.
The tallest team in KCKCC history, it's a far cry from a year ago when the Blue Devils biggest player was 6-6 Joe Lendway and the squad numbered only seven healthy players and still finished 23-9 and one win away from earning KCKCC its first national tournament berth.
"Our strengths will be depth and size," says Newton. "Offensively, it will be business as usual and we'll pressure defensively. The only difference is we'll have the depth to play longer, harder and sustain efforts over 40 minutes. Our weakness will be our youthfulness and inexperience. We're going to be counting on a lot of freshmen to step in and play, especially at the point guard position. But that could also be a strong point."
Coaches in the Jayhawk Division II Conference apparently are impressed. They've made KCKCC the pre-season No. 1 pick in the conference followed by Highland, Johnson County, Fort Scott and Labette. Those five teams will be joined by Brown Mackie and Hesston in Region VI play.
Just four sophomores return from last year and only Lendway was a full-time starter. Second in scoring (13.2) and third in rebounding (5.1), the former Lansing standout was the picture of consistency, scoring in double figures in 23 games of 32 games. "Our go-to guy, our leader on and off the floor," says Newton. "Defensively, he's our anchor and offensively everything will go through him."
Dehven Talley, a 6-2 guard from Shawnee Mission Northwest, is the lone returnee to the backcourt. Elevated to a starting role midway through the season, Talley scored in double figures in seven of his final 13 games, finishing with a 4.9 point scoring average. The other two returnees, however, played only half a season. Armoni Shorter, a 6-7 forward from Chicago, averaged 7.2 points and 3.8 rebounds the first semester; 6-5 LaShawn Lewis, also of Chicago, played the final 19 games, averaging 5.4 points and 3.0 rebounds.
"Dehven Talley brings experience from a team that was a couple of minutes from the national tournament while it will be good to have LaShawn Lewis and Armoni Shorter for a full season," says Netwon. "Both bring a lot to the table, size, athleticism and the ability to shoot the ball."
Size in the front court will start with a pair of 6-9 freshmen posts, Jonathon Murray of Macon, Mo., and Donald Metoyer of Washington High School. "Both have the skills to score with their back to the basket," says Newton. They will be joined by two area products, 6-6 Trevor Young of Lansing and a brother of former KCKCC standout Clay Young now at KU; and 6-6 Carson Fliger of Basehor-Linwood. "Both have high basketball IQ's and are tough, hard-nosed rebounders and defenders."
A four-sport athlete from Kilgore, Tex., 6-6 Xavier Gaona will provide additional size at the small forward spot. "Long and athletic, he can handle the ball and shoot from range," says Newton. Talley will be joined by 6-0 Tim Wyatt of Aurora, Colo., and 6-0 Kellan Turner of Liberty, Mo., at shooting guard. Turner, who played two games at Johnson County last year before suffering a broken right wrist, may also play the point while "Wyatt is a real good knock down shooter who can stretch the floor."
Mike Lee, a 6-2 frosh from Durham, N.C.; 5-11 Devante Sayles of F.L. Schlagle; and Turner are the leaders at the critical point guard position. "Mike Lee has shown some good shooting skills at setting up the team and can shoot a little bit while Sayles is a tough, hard-nosed defender," says Newton,
"I think we have a chance to be good," says Newton, who is being assisted by former Arizona State and pro standout Alton Mason. "I'm really excited about the post position because we have depth there, something we've not had in the previous years." The Blue Devils also have a favorable schedule with 18 of their 30 games at home.
The pre-season favorite in the Jayhawk Division II Conference, Kansas City Kansas Community College returns sophomores (from left) Dehven Talley, Armonti Shorter, Joe Lendway and LaShawn Lewis from last year's 23-9 that came within one win of the national tournament. (KCKCC Photo by Alan Hoskins)