NMJC freshman Tre'Vaun Hymer goes up for a
dunk during a T-Bird practice earlier this month.
For a quick refresher, the NMJC men finished tied for second in the Western Junior College Athletic Conference last season, made the Region 5 Tournament for the first time since the 1990s and lost to eventual national champion South Plains in the regional semifinals to cap a 23-9 season.
The NMJC women did even better, winning the WJCAC and Region 5 titles for the first time in school history and taking fifth at nationals while going 32-5.
As I was roaming the Region 5 website to finish my column and check my numbers, I stumbled upon the WJCAC preseason coaches polls.
I was surprised to see neither team was picked to finish as high as they did a season ago.
The NMJC men are picked to finish fourth behind defending national champion South Plains (ranked first nationally, Howard College (ranked third and a team NMJC tied for second with in the WJCAC a season ago) and Midland College.
The NMJC women weren’t dropped as far, picked to take second behind Midland (ranked 20th nationally).
Just out of curiosity, I checked the national polls and neither NMJC team was ranked there either.
I know polls are meaningless in college basketball (and in general) and are just fodder for us in the media, but this has to fuel each of these programs heading into the NMJC men’s opener 7 p.m. Thursday against Houston Christian Life and the NMJC women’s opener 5 p.m. Friday against Northern Oklahoma-ENID (ranked ninth nationally).
Sure, there are question marks heading into the season for both NMJC teams.
The NMJC men, who return seven players from a season ago, have a new coach in first-time college head coach James Miller. But Miller was the assistant coach with the program during the T-Birds’ resurgence from a 3-11 conference record in 2008-09 to a 10-4 mark last season under then head coach Chris Tifft (now the director of basketball operations at TCU) and recruited the players on the team now. Add on a strong addition in assistant coach Brian Lohrey along with what looks like a strong recruiting class and I don’t see NMJC skipping a beat in its continued rise in the WJCAC.
For the NMJC women (a program that just five years ago went 4-25), it only returns three players from its national tournament team. However, one of those players are University of Texas-El Paso commit Stacie Telles, and along with a talented recruiting class, the Lady T-Birds have the makings to be a force again in the WJCAC.
Coaching and roster turnover are issues successful junior college programs learn to overcome without falling off. With neither NMJC program showing recent sustained success at or near the top of the WJCAC, the T-Birds and Lady T-Birds haven’t had to overcome it and that unproven track record is probably the reason for their WJCAC coaches preseason poll position.
Starting at this week’s Thunderbird Classic and throughout the 2012-13 season, however, the NMJC men’s and women’s basketball programs can prove they are successful programs here to stay.
This column appeared in Sunday's edition of the Hobbs News-Sun.
Clayton Jones is the sports editor of the Hobbs News-Sun. He can be reached at email@example.com or at 391-5431. Follow him on Twitter @ClaytonMJones.