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COLLEGE BASKETBALL: Odessa College men have many new faces, same expectations - Odessa American: College

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COLLEGE BASKETBALL: Odessa College men have many new faces, same expectations

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Posted: Thursday, October 31, 2019 9:35 pm

For four consecutive years, the Odessa College men’s basketball team has played in the NJCAA National Tournament.

If the Wranglers are to make it five in a row, they’ll have to do it with only one returning player as Odessa College enters the 2019-20 season with a number of new people.

“We have a lot of new faces so that’s going to be the biggest challenge,” Odessa College head coach Kris Baumann said. “We only have one returning guy. But we have good talent. We have good size and I like our depth. But we have a lot of new faces.

“As a second-year head coach, we don’t really know until we get out there and play somebody in the first game. There’s going to be some surprises. But we’re excited and the kids are excited to play.”

That one returning player is sophomore guard Tavon Jones.

“He’s going to be a big part of our team because he’s played in this league,” Baumann said.

Despite the number of new players, Baumann has liked what he’s seen from his guys during the preseason portion of the schedule.

“They’ve worked really hard,” Baumann said. “I’m really proud of their effort. They’ve done a good job. We have to do a better job of taking care of the basketball. We’ve turned the ball over too many times, so that’s one thing we need to work on.”

Baumann enters his second season as head coach of the Wranglers and can take heart in knowing that last year’s team also had its share of new faces before going on to post a 28-7 record.

“I’ve done it long enough to where I’m used to it,” Baumann said. “We have a lot of Division I transfers. We have some young kids who are really talented. We had a lot of new faces last year, so I’m hoping that we can do the same thing this year.

One of those Division I transfers is sophomore Tauriawn Knight, who comes in after playing at Utah State.

“It feels good to get the season started because we know every night that we go out and compete, teams are going to be gunning for us because of how good we are and the name on our jerseys,” Knight said. “They know how well we’ve done.”

Another Division I transfer is sophomore guard Joe Kasperzyk from Bryant University.

“We have a couple of other kids who have tremendous talent,” Baumann said. “Joe out of Bryant University is going to be a good player for us.”

The Wranglers will begin their new season at noon today against Arizona Western College in Edmond, Okla.

Like the Wranglers, Arizona Western College is also coming off an NJCAA Tournament appearance from last year.

Odessa College will then face Kilgore College at noon Saturday to finish out the opening weekend tournament, which Baumann hopes will give him a better idea of where his team’s strengths will be.

“You never really know until you get out there and play,” Baumann said. “We play in a great tournament this week up in Edmond against some of the best teams in the juco nation. There’s some good teams from our region that will be up there. Like I said, it’ll be a big challenge for us.”

After losing to South Plains College in the Region V Championship, 73-71 last March, the Wranglers still had enough to clinch an at-large tournament bid, beating Pearl River Community College 69-61 before falling 72-60 in the second round to Vincennes University in Hutchinson, Kan.

Vincennes went on to win the national championship, beating Ranger College 87-77.

The Wranglers enter this season with a No. 14 ranking in the NJCAA men’s basketball preseason poll.

After a month of playing scrimmages and practicing, the Wranglers are eager to finally play a regular-season game.

“I think they’re more excited than I am, to be honest,” Baumann said. “The kids always like to play the first game. I’m not sure if I’m ready, but we’ll find out this weekend.”

“We’re really excited because we haven’t had the best scrimmages yet, so we’re ready to get going and just go and compete against everyone else,” Knight said.

No matter how many new faces are on the team, the goals still remain the same for the Wranglers.

“Our goal is to get to the national tournament for a fifth straight year and our goal is to win a national title,” Baumann said. “The guys know that coming in. we have a bunch of new guys and we have to make some adjustments but I think we have enough depth to cover up some things. It’s going to be an exciting weekend for us.”

The Wranglers possess a lot of size this year with three players who are over seven feet tall.

“I think we’re big,” Baumann said. “I think we’re long and athletic. We have to shoot the ball better. The key is to keep the turnovers down. We’ve had some problems in the past with that and we’ve been working to correct those things this weekend, and if we do that, we’ll be fine.”

Finding the right combination of players on the floor will take a few games to figure out, according to Baumann.

With Odessa College playing in a tough region that includes South Plains College, the Wranglers are very much aware of just how tough their conference will be.

“This is as good a conference as any in the nation,” Baumann said. “South Plains has been very successful and we’ve been very successful. We have our hands full. We have a bunch of good teams to face. New Mexico Junior College and Clarendon College are both very good.”

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