Last season, Kansas City Kansas Community College earned its first Region VI championship and a berth in the NJCAA Division II national tournament for the first time in history.
Now, head coach wants more. "Very definitely," says the former Wyandotte High School and University of Oklahoma standout. "People say it's hard to get to the national tournament but it's even a harder task to continue to get there. It's the place I want us to be year in and year out."
Ranked No. 12 in the NJCAA preseason poll, the Blue Devils will open the season Wednesday, Nov. 2, when they host Saint Mary JV at 7 p.m. The KCKCC women will also open their home season Wednesday against Ottawa's JV at 5 p.m.
This year's bid will be built around three returning starters – "The most I've had in my four years here and a good foundation around which to build this season," says Newton. Even better, the returners fill three vital roles. At 6-9, Jon Murray gives the Blue Devils size. Mike Lee Jr. is back to direct the offense and Kellen Turner provides outside shooting and leadership.
"Mike Lee is the engine that runs our train," says Newton. "He started all last season and needs to continue to direct us in the way we want to go and get the ball in the right spots. Jon Murray averaged in double digits in scoring and led us in rebounding. He's big, rebounds and runs the floor and a really good presence on the inside. Kellen Turner is our stabilizer, a good leader, very reliable who keeps the team on an even keel. Learning all three guard positions last year makes him even more versatile."
A sophomore from Macon, Mo., the 6-9 Murray was the second leading scorer (10.9) and leading rebounder (7.1) while shooting 50.8 percent from the field. Lee, a 6-2 soph from Durham, N.C., led in assists (5.6) and steals (1.8) while averaging 9.5 points and 3.1 rebounds. A 6-0 sophomore from Liberty, Turner was third in scoring (19.3), second in assists (2.6) and steals (1.8) and was the Blue Devils' most accurate 3-point shooter at 40.0 per cent.
Two other sophomores return from last year's team that finished 22-13 and both figure prominently in this year's plans. Donald Metoyer, a 6-9 center from Washington, provides another big body inside, while Garrick McCuller, a graduate of Kansas City Northeast, saw a great deal of action late in the season. Metoyer averaged 1.5 in both points and rebounds; McCuller shot 62.5 percent from the field. "Metoyer had a real good summer and is now scoring around the basket; McCuller gained a lot of experience down the stretch and gives us more versatility at the point."
The search is on to determine where the additional offense, defense and rebounding will come from the newcomers. There's a big logjam at guard including three graduates of Highland Park in Topeka, brother DaiShoun and Ahmad Fox and Daniel Kingcannon along with Theron Sanders of Sumner Academy, Dontae Gibson of Lansing, Ferdinand Handy of SM Northwest and Lane Hartley of Weston, LA.
Inside help will have to come from 6-5 Artavius Banks of Atlanta, GA.; 6-4 Dominique Young of Grandview Christian, 6-6 Isaiah Richardson of Orlando, FL; 6-5 Mark Moore of Bastrop, LA.; and 6-7 Conner Bailey of Kennesaw, GA., a transfer from Kennesaw State who will not be eligible until the spring semester.
All are freshmen but Bailey and Gibson, a transfer from JCCC. "Dontae played with Joe Lendway on Lansing's state championship team," says Newton. "He's a versatile guard who does a lot of things and is a winner. DaiShoun Fox is a combo guard who is a long, athletic defender who is also very versatile while Artavious Banks is an undersized post player at 6-5 but really impresses how hard he plays on every play."
The Blue Devils will waste no time in weighing into what shapes up as the most difficult schedule in recent years. After a home opener against Saint Mary JV Nov. 2, KCKCC takes part in the Garden City Invitational where the Blue Devils will take on the perennial power host team and Northeast Colorado Nov. 4-5. Then it's on to North Arkansas Nov. 8 before hosting Link Year Prep and Livin' the Dream in the annual Keith Lindsey Classic Nov. 11-12. And that's followed by road games at St. Louis Nov. 16, Iowa Western Nov. 22 and Penn Valley Nov. 29.
"It's a really tough non-conference schedule," says Newton. "In addition to going to Garden City, we've got Iowa Western and North Ark twice, play Penn Valley twice and that's always a dogfight and go to St. Louis and Iowa Lakes all before Christmas."
The Division II Jayhawk Conference race will again be made up of Johnson County, the No. 15 ranked team nationally; Fort Scott, Highland, Labette, Hesston, Brown Mackie and KCKCC although this will be the last season for Brown Mackie. "They're dropping all athletics after this year," says Newton. "But everyone else in the conference is going to get better. I think we'll be more versatile this season with more depth at key positions. The key will be learning how to work hard to make this a winning team."
Sophomores (from left) Donald Metoyer, Kellan Turner, Garrick McCuller II, Mike Lee Jr. and Jon Murray return to lead the Kansas City Kansas Community College men's basketball team in 2016-17. (KCKCC Photo)