JCCC hoop teams ranked in top 5

January 6, 2016

Erica Nelson

OVERLAND PARK, Kan. – The Johnson County Community College women’s and men’s basketball teams have both earned top-5 national rankings in their respective national polls release on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2015. 

The Lady Cavaliers (15-0) remain as the No. 1 team in NJCAA Division II, while the men (13-1) improve one spot to No. 2, the highest regular season ranking in the program’s history. That makes Johnson County one of four schools in the country with both its basketball teams ranked in the top five, and one of two in NJCAA Division II.

"This is a milestone for our men's and women's basketball programs, our athletic department, and for the entire college," Director of Athletics Carl Heinrich said. "We are exceptionally proud of our student-athletes and coaches."

For the JCCC women’s program, appearing in the national poll is a forgone conclusion. Under head coach Ben Conrad, the Lady Cavaliers have been ranked in 87 consecutive polls, 86 straight among the top 10. They have also held the No. 1 spot 38 times, and at least once in six straight seasons. They also are the defending national champions.

The pressure to maintain that standard could prove taxing on some kids, but Conrad has a process to keep his players grounded and focused on the task at hand.

“Rankings, records and conference title chases won’t be taxing to anyone if you simply stay locked into our process over product,” Conrad said. “If you just handle the day-to-day process of being your best, the product from that process will always work itself out. I also think that is part of why girls come to this program – to be part of something special, to try to live up to the standards past players of set.”

Danzel Wright

The Cavalier men, national champions in 2001 and 2009, are off to their best start in program history. Once a formidable power in the ranks of men’s division II hoops, Johnson County had fallen off the radar in recent seasons. The Cavaliers were unranked to open the season, but after an 11-0 start jumped to the fourth spot in the Dec. 1 poll, ending a span of 55 straight polls out of the NJCAA top 20. Now they are no. 2 in the country.

“It’s great for the players and our program overall,” said 27-veteran coach Mike Jeffers. “We are really working on keeping this team focused on what is in front of them. Anytime your team gets off to a good start it alerts your opponents. We are not sneaking up on anyone now.”

A reason for both team’s success on the court is simple as this: overall depth and balanced scoring. Both teams have seven players that average seven players that average seven or more points, and on any given night, a different player has the ability to step up and be the key contributor.

Sophomore Erica Nelson, an all-tournament selection at nationals last March, leads the Lady Cavaliers with an 18.6 points per game average. Also averaging double figures is freshman Austin Richardson at 10.6 per game, followed by freshman Bh’rea Griffin at 9.6, sophomore Chastity Franklin at 7.6, sophomore Shelby Dahl at 7.2, sophomore Kayonna Lee at 7.0, freshman Arielle Jackson at 6.8.

The men have four averaging double figures, led by sophomore Danzel Wright at 18.1 per game. Freshman Jordan Young is second at 17.0, followed by sophomore s Warren Specht at 12.8 and Tyler Tucker at 11.1. Other key producers are freshman Jerry Perry (9.0), sophomore Roy Clayter (7.7) and freshman Anthony Whitney (7.1).

“Our depth on this year’s roster has been key to our start,” said 25-year head coach Mike Jeffers. “We don’t have just one or two guys that can score. Our opponents must take into account we have more weapons to try to stop. It has been purely a team effort. They have really bought into moving the ball and finding the open man.”