• April 12, 2021

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: Wranglers ready to begin postseason run - Odessa American: Sports

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COLLEGE BASKETBALL: Wranglers ready to begin postseason run

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Posted: Monday, April 5, 2021 9:27 pm

Improving team chemistry, physicality and cohesiveness have helped the Wranglers push through the 2021 regular season with an almost perfect record.

“I think we’re deeper than last year’s team, I think we’re much more physical,” head coach Kris Baumann said. “I just think the chemistry with this team is much, much healthier than we were a year ago.”

Veterans like Aquarn Butler and Alphousseyni Diedhiou have played key roles in building a steady foundation for a team that featured more freshmen than sophomores.

Butler was the team’s go-to man at point guard, while Diedhiou made his presence known in the paint on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball over the season.

The duo combined with other sophomores on the roster to provide a mature presence. That maturity was key in establishing the Wranglers’ physical and cohesive identity.

“We call it grown men around here,” Baumann said. “They’ve been grown men within our program; I think that’s really helped us get better.

“They’ve upheld the values of the team and I think that’s really important.”

Over the final 10 games of the regular season, Diedhiou and Butler stepped up to make sure the Wranglers (20-1 overall) would head into the Western Junior College Athletic Conference Tournament on the right foot.

Diedhiou averaged .8 blocks and 5.2 rebounds in the latter half of the season, while Butler recorded 53 assists and 38 steals.

In that span, the Wranglers went 9-1 with their only loss coming to top-ranked South Plains College in overtime on the road.

Odessa College avenged that loss at home to close out the regular season campaign, defeating the Texans by a 74-68 score.

Both team leaders went through some challenges before they crafted their roles on the team.

Baumann said Diedhiou had to make an adjustment in his freshman year as an international student. The Dakar, Senegal native has more confidence on the court now that he has settled in.

“ It’s probably the best I’ve seen him play since he’s been in an Odessa uniform,” Baumann said. “It’s a credit to his work ethic, he’s probably put on 30 pounds of muscle since he’s been here.”

Diedhiou gave the Wranglers a defensive presence off the bench this year, starting one of 21 games played.

Butler, meanwhile, had to readjust to the team after sitting out last year.

The Brooklyn, New York native played on the 2018-19 Odessa College team that won the WJCAC Tournament and advanced to the NJCAA National Tournament’s Elite 8 round.

The point guard took last season off to recalibrate mentally.

“ I wasn’t in the mental part where I could play a full season at that moment, I was going through a lot,” Butler said. “I just needed a year to myself to come back and be refreshed.”

His decision to return to Odessa College was based on the team’s brotherhood and the way the coaching staff took care of its players.

After 2019-20 season, Baumann knew the Wranglers had some needs: a point guard and an experienced leader. Butler’s return checked both boxes.

“I always knew he had a lot of ability and he could play,” Baumann said. “He’s grown a lot, not only as a basketball player but as a person as well.”

After Odessa College’s victory against South Plains last week, Butler posted to social media mentioning his back-to-back regular season conference championship wins and how he gave his all to the team.

He credited the success to the coaching staff and the team’s chemistry on and off the court.

As the 21-game campaign went forward, Butler and Odessa College’s veterans started preparing the team’s freshmen to take over in the future.

“It’s very important to lead the freshmen, so next year when they come back they could do the same thing that we did for them,” Butler said. “It’s very important to have leadership because you need sophomores to win in this league.

“You need grown men and us training our freshmen to become grown men is very important.”

Before they take the court Tuesday at Rip Griffin Center in Lubbock, veterans and younger players alike will be on the same page for the Wranglers.

“You start looking ahead too far and you start worrying about things that you can’t control,” Baumann said. “Our biggest goal is just to go 1-0 on Tuesday and give us an opportunity to play on Wednesday.”

>> Follow Chris Amaya on Twitter at @OA_CAmaya

Odessa, TX

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