Good defense has always been a staple of Coach Kelley Newton's basketball program at Kansas City Kansas Community College.
But it may be even bigger in 2018-19. That's because of the return of 6-9 Tyson Beringer of SanTan Valley, Ariz., the leading shot blocker in the Jayhawk Division II Conference last season around whom the Blue Devils can build a stellar defense.
The Blue Devils will open the season Saturday at Southwestern Iowa in Creston (4 p.m.) and at Saint Mary JV in Leavenworth Monday (7 p.m.) before their home openers in the Keith Lindsey Classic against Link Year Prep and North Central Missouri Nov. 9-10.
"Definitely a rim protector who has got stronger and more confident over the summer," Newton says of Beringer. "His role changes this year – from a freshman trying to figure things out to being a sophomore leader. Our expectations are definitely on his going up in all categories."
In addition to averaging 2.5 blocks per game last year, Beringer averaged 8.5 points and 7.0 rebounds in conference play while shooting 50 percent from the field. A good jumper, Beringer runs the floor with the best which means frequently beating defenses down the floor for easy shots. And at 6-9 with leaping ability, it offers Newton all kinds of defensive options. "We've always had multiple defenses and that won't change," says Newton. The one concern is fouls. The last third of the season, Beringer never left the floor.
The Blue Devils also return two other starters off last year's 8-23 team that, because of team policy violations, finished with just six players the final eight games.
DuVonte' Beard, a 6-6 forward from Ruskin, started 19 games, averaging 5.6 points and 3.8 rebounds, and 6-2 guard Malcolm Tate of Wichita South, averaged 8.1 points and 2.4 rebounds after stepping into the starting lineup the final eight games. "A couple of guys you like to go to war with," says Newton. "DuVonte is comfortable playing inside or out. His production level should go up. Malcolm gives the team a lot of toughness and defends and rebounds well."
Newton also expects a big season from Arother Ratliff, a 6-5 forward from Greenwood, Miss., who averaged 6.4 points and 3.5 rebounds in 21 games last year. "He had a great summer," says Newton. "Long and athletic, he'll help on both ends of the floor."
Other frontcourt help will come from a trio of 6-6 Daiyon Taylor of Detroit, 6-6 Jonathan Richmond of Columbia (Mo.) Hickman and 6-8 Jeremiah Brantley of Belton. "Both Taylor and Richmond bring size, wide bodies who can bang," says Newton. "Taylor has some skills, good shooter and passer; Richmond is also a real good passer."
A quartet of freshmen and 6-4 Cowley College transfer Tama Johnson, who played at FL Schlagle High School, will provide depth at the small forward/shooting guard position. The four freshmen are 6-4 Andrew Boykin, Washington, D.C.; 6-2 Jalen Davis, Houston, Tex,; 6-2 Calvin Slaughter, Macon, GA,; and Cody Dortch of Paragould, Ark.
"Boykin is a strong athletic guard who can shoot and dribble," says Newton. "Davis is another tough guy who can dribble, shoot and pass; Slaughter is tough, athletic guard who defends well and brings a lot of versatility to the guard position; and Dortch is a knockdown shooter who can shoot from range."
Freshmen Taylor Turner of Albuquerque, N.M., and Kelyn Bolton of S.M. East, will share the all-important point guard responsibilities. "Turner can handle the ball, shoot and pass and will definitely be one of our top scorers; Bolton brings quickness to the point guard position and is very good at getting into the lane and making other people better," says Newton, who is being aided by fourth year assistant Alton Mason.
Until the season gets underway, Newton says much will be done by committee. "Everything is work in progress. We have so many freshmen who have not been tested and until then we won't know what we have. But I think by the end of the year we can be pretty good on the defensive end which we can turn into offense."
Ranked No. 4 behind Highland, Johnson County and Fort Scott in the pre-season coaches poll, the Jayhawk Conference will have a new full-time member this year in Hesston, which competed only on the regional level in recent years. As for the conference race? "Wide open, as usual," says Newton. "It's such a tough conference. I'm in my sixth year and someone different has gone to the national tournament each year." And that includes KCKCC in 2015-16.