Idle three weeks for the holiday break, Kansas City Kansas Community College men's basketball team will return to action in a rush – six games in 11 days heading into Jayhawk Conference play.
The Blue Devils (4-10) resume play against Northern Oklahoma (9-5) in Tonkawa Tuesday at 4 p.m. before hosting four of the next five games. Highlighting the remaining non-conference games will be the Blue Devil Classic, a four-team event Friday and Saturday.
Fort Scott (9-8) will open the Classic against Metropolitan Community College Friday at 5:30 p.m. with KCKCC hosting On Point Academy at 7:30 p.m. Three games will be played Saturday. Fort Scott will play On Point Academy at 2 p.m.; the KCKCC women will play McCook (Neb.) at 4 p.m. and the Blue Devils will take on Metropolitan at 6 p.m.
The Blue Devils will then close out non-conference play, facing North Central Missouri on the road Jan. 14 and then entertain Saint Mary JV Jan. 17 and Park University JV Jan. 18 before opening Jayhawk play with a home game against Labette Jan. 23.
The busy non-conference schedule will give Coach Kelley Newton a chance to fine tune the Blue Devils for conference play. "Our focus will be the same, getting better position by position day by day," says Newton. "We have a lot of young players (nine freshmen) and will try to match up against whomever we play." An extremely balanced 13-man squad, nine Blue Devils have started three games or more.
Jalen Davis, a 6-2 freshman guard from Houston, is the lone Blue Devil scoring in double figures. Shooting a torrid 56.5 percent from the field, Davis is averaging 12.3 points per game. Another frosh, 6-2 Calvin Slaughter of Macon, GA., is next at 9.4 followed by 6-5 sophomore Arother Ratliff (7.5) of Glenwood, MS., and 6-6 freshman Daiyon Taylor (6.5) of Detroit.
There's a log jam of four players grouped at 5.4 points a game – sophomores DuVonte' Beard of Belton and Malcolm Tate of Wichita South and freshmen Kelyn Bolton of SM East and Johnathan Richmond of Columbia (MO.) Hickman. Freshmen Cody Dortch of Paragould, Ark., and Andre Boykins of Washington, D.C., are both averaging 4.5 followed by freshman Taylor Turner (3.7) of Albuquerque, N.M., and sophomore Tama Johnson (2.7) of F.L. Schlagle. Daiyon Taylor (4.1), Beard (4.0) and Slaughter (3.8) lead in rebounding while Bolton leads in assists with 3.2 per contest.
Defensively, the Blue Devils rank No. 9 nationally at 69.1 points a game which is far and away the best in the Jayhawk. "We pride ourselves defensively, especially the way we finished the first half of the season," says Newton. "We just need to turn our defense into more offense, stopping other teams from making big runs and putting ourselves in position to go on our own runs. It's hard when you play good defense and are not rewarded with points."
Unbeaten Highland has emerged as the Jayhawk Conference favorite. With a 16-0 start, the Scotties are ranked No. 3 in the NJCAA Division II poll. Johnson County is 12-3 followed by Labette and Hesston, both at 9-7; and Fort Scott at 9-8.
"It's no secret Highland has the pieces on the floor and is very good," says Newton. "Johnson County has had some real good wins. Labette plays very hard and is a tough out. Fort Scott finally got healthy. This is my sixth season and we're in one of the toughest conferences for a reason. There's no easy game anywhere and anyone can be beaten on any one night."