CONCORDIA, Kansas — The Cloud County Community College men's basketball team was picked to finished 12th in the 2017-18 Kansas Jayhawk Community College Conference preseason poll that was released on Tuesday. Call it indifference, but the T-Birds won't put much stock into the poll, especially after going 20-11 and finishing fourth in the KJCCC standings a season ago. The T-Birds were originally projected to finish in 11th place in 2016-17.
Repeating that accomplishment will certainly be a challenge following the departures of nine players from last year's team, including starters Aamahne Santos, Deon Lyle, Andrew Ballock and Cherif Fall, as well as former head coach Chad Eshbaugh.
But if you ask Jordan Altman, hired on May 30 to be the fifth head coach in Cloud County's history, he is optimistic the current group of T-Birds can turn heads once again.
"The fourth-place finish last year was impressive and kind of out of character, especially without the two divisions," said Altman, who comes to Concordia after two seasons inside the KJCCC as the assistant at Garden City Community College. "We've used the term often that we want to do something special and leave a mark on this campus. Whether that means having an impressive conference season, making a run in the Region VI Tournament, or knocking off some of the power schools throughout the year; all of those things can contribute to having a special season. That's really our goal and what we're working toward. We want to be a team that is remembered."
Cloud County takes its first step toward doing that at 7 p.m. next Wednesday when it opens the regular season with a non-conference home game against Central Community College-Columbus. It'll be the first of eight home games in the month of November for the T-Birds, who open up KJCCC action against Dodge City on Nov. 11.
Cloud will lean heavily on a talented returning sophomore class that features Ramion Burt Jr., who averaged 8.4 points and 6.1 rebounds a game as the first big off the bench last season, combo guard Solomon Finley and high-energy power forward Rahjames Robinson.
"Ramion and Solomon have been by far the leaders of the team and RJ has the personality that any coach in the country would want to work with," Altman said. "Those three have been huge in setting the tone and we've had a lot of positives from the other guys like Alvin Thompson, Shawn Lee and Andre Soza coming back from last season."
Coming into the fold this season will be talented newcomers such as power forwards Breyon Jackson and Adetomi Ayilara. Altman said Jackson will bring a similar skillset to the table as Burt Jr. as a more tradition inside forward, while the 6-foot, 10-inch Ayilara possesses guard-like perimeter skills that should allow the T-Birds to stretch the floor.
Sophomore transfer Obi Patrick, sharpshooter Jerome Kidd Jr., as well as fellow guards Saleem Holden, Brayden Day and JaVary Christmas — a former walk-on at the University of Oregon — are all expected to challenge for significant playing time on the perimeter.
In addition to the new faces, Cloud County fans can also anticipate a new look from the T-Birds as Altman implements his own motion offense.
"I really liked a lot of what (Eshbaugh) did here because of how well his kids executed it. That was my scouting reports on Cloud County when I was at Garden City," Altman said. "We have a lot of similarities as far as how we execute plays. Our offenses will look a lot different, but the base theories are pretty similar of executing a motion offense with a number of sets to put our players in the best one-on-one positions to score."
Fans will also notice a notable change on the defensive end of the floor this season as Cloud County will look to use a number of different defenses to manipulate the pace of the game and opponents' game plans.
"We aren't a team that can afford a lot of foul trouble and give up points at the free-throw line, so we've done a lot of work so far on trying to prevent offensive attacks before they even start," Altman said. "(Eshbaugh) liked to play a little more pressure defense. We'll be a little more held back and won't gamble as much or play as physically. But we have a way to counter that with some zone defenses and full-court pressures. I change things up a lot and try to use defense as a weapon to throw opponents off guard."
Cloud County opens its 2017-18 season at 7 p.m. Wednesday against Central Community College-Columbus inside Arley Bryant Gymnasium.