CONCORDIA, Kansas — The Cloud County Community College men's basketball team knew what it wanted to target in its first full offseason with head coach Jordan Altman and assistant coach Todd Johnston at the helm.
"We wanted to find winners, guys who have a tradition of winning and understand the small differences between winning and losing," Altman said. "For instance, Ty Duin is a guy from Gretna who won 80 games as a starter with two state championships in high school and played on a very successful AAU team. We see him as a perfect piece to a puzzle. We have some guys who have been through tough basketball before and have a lot of experience."
Duin, currently in the running for the starting point guard spot, is one of nine new freshmen on the T-Birds roster for the 2018-19 season, which is scheduled to get underway at 7 p.m. Thursday on the road against Central Community College-Columbus.
Cloud County is also optimistic about the potential of freshman Gabe Pieschl, a 6-foot, 4-inch wing and the all-time scoring leader at Marysville High School (1,603 points), as well as its international trio of Iyen Enaruna, Edoardo Del Cadia and Sidy Sissoko.
Sissoko is a sophomore transfer out of Sherican College. Standing at 6'9, 220 pounds, he provides the T-Birds with much-needed forward depth following the departures of Ramion Burt Jr. and Breyon Jackson to NCAA DI programs.
Enaruna is a 6'9, 210-pound forward from the Netherlands while Del Cadia is a 6'8, 225-pound stretch power forward out of Senigallia, Italy.
The "Bash Brothers," as they are affectionately known inside the T-Birds locker room, are two guys Altman said have a chance to score double-digits on any given night and epitomize what Cloud County anticipates will be a deep and diverse lineup.
"We like the makeup of our roster. Not one single guy has the same skill set or physical attributes as someone else on the team," Altman said. "We have 11 very different guys."
Thompson is coming off a strong redshirt freshman season that saw the springy 6'3 guard average 11.6 points and 3.6 rebounds in 25.8 minutes per game last winter.
"We're really hoping Alvin can open things up and be a guy who can consistently get to that 20-points a night level for us a little more often and have that breakout sophomore season," Altman said.
Day (5.0 PPG), Kidd Jr. (5.1 PPG) and Ayilara (3.7 PPG, 2.5 RPG) all showed flashes a season ago and will be counted on to take the next step of being consistent contributors on a team Altman says has made major strides since the end of last season.
"We got really fortunate with this group that they all have a pretty high basketball IQ," Altman said. "They've picked up our offense very quickly, their commitment to defense is incredible. Fans should see a level of intensity and speed of play that's very different from last year."
Cloud County supporters will have to wait a little while to see the T-Birds in person as, starting with Thursday night's opener against Central Community College-Columbus, they begin the season with seven straight road games.
"We need to go out and get experience. The restructuring of the KJCCC schedule let us have 10 non-conference games for the first time in several years. I'm also knew to this and need to get some relationships built," said Altman about the road-heavy start to the season. "It was a combination of wanting to get a young team prepared the best way we could and also building some relationships. We're going to play some games this year that I think will allow us to host most games in future years."
Cloud County will play its home opener at 7 p.m. Friday, November 23 against North Platte Community College in the first game of the revitalized T-Bird Thanksgiving Classic. The T-Birds also host perennial powers Iowa Western Community College at 4 p.m. that Saturday.
"We really wanted to make a commitment to revive a tradition around here with the Thanksgiving Classic," Altman said. "Brett Erkenbrack was able to schedule a women's game in there too, so not only will we have the four men's games here, but we'll have a fifth game with the women playing Iowa Western on Thanksgiving weekend. It'll be a long month of November, but we'll have that light at the end of the tunnel to look forward to. The guys are excited about that tournament and a chance to get a top-20 team (Iowa Western) here at home in front of what we hope will be a good crowd."
Following the T-Bird Thanksgiving Classic, Cloud County then embarks on its 20-game conference schedule as the newest member in the KJCCC East, beginning with an 8 p.m. home game on Saturday, December 8 against Garden City Community College.
Cloud County, coming off a 6-24 season a year ago, has been projected to finish sixth in the KJCCC East according to the preseason Predicted Order of Finish poll released by the conference and voted on by coaches.
But the T-Birds, who showed they can compete with anyone with its upset of top-ranked Hutchinson Community College last November, are determined to better that prediction.
"We've talked to our returners a lot about not repeating the mistakes of last year, remembering how that felt, and avoiding that situation again," Altman said. "For us, our goals are always a little more vague. They'll be things like 'Do some special things.' We could play maybe 7-8 games against top-20 teams this season and could always have a chance to do something special in those big games. I'd love to see us host a first-round playoff game because that'd put us in a position where I know we did some special things in those big games. If there is one tangible goal for us this season, that is one we can point toward. Anything can happen once you get to Wichita and being at home for that Region VI first round is where you want to be."