Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret Morning News
Salt Lake Community College basketball coach Norm Parrish directs traffic during practice in Taylorsville earlier this week.

TAYLORSVILLE — SLCC men's coach Norm Parrish describes his players as being "tough kids' — and that, he laughs, is the nice way of saying it.

"In reality," he says, 'we've got some nut cases."'

That, by the way, is a glowing compliment, not a clinical diagnosis. It's also the reason the Bruins are off to a 15-0 start with a highest-ever No. 5 national ranking.

Don't pinch Parrish now, because he's been living a coach's dream. His players are mostly nuts about two things: winning and playing tough defense. To really spoil him, they also spread the ball around on offense, practice and play hard, and have good chemistry.

But it's the Bruins' pestering, pressuring defense that has become this team's trademark — not to mention biggest source of pride for their coach. Their hustle has helped them become the No. 1 defensive team in the NJCAA. Their first 15 opponents have averaged a measly 49.2 points a game on 35.5-percent shooting. They held one team to just 29 points (and, no, it wasn't Rick Majerus' new squad).

Sophomore guards Brian Green (Davis High) and Yahosh Bonner (Mesa, Ariz.) and freshman center Kael Pope (Wendell, Idaho) are among the players who really go berserk defensively. Their all-out effort has become contagious. Parrish said they almost play with "a football-team enthusiasm."

"When a team scores on us, they sincerely get really mad and upset," said Parrish, who's in his 17th season at SLCC. "You preach all the time that you'll be good when you're as unhappy being scored upon as (you are) happy when you score ... and we've got some guys on this team that are like that."

The Bruins have only had one game that wasn't a blowout. They battled to an impressive 67-66 victory at 17th-ranked Arizona Western in November. Shortly after that, SLCC's players really went crazy for defense. They had held Green River to just a dozen points a couple of minutes before halftime when Parrish said the players decided, "Hey, let's just keep 'em to 12."'

They did — and since then they've limited about a half-dozen opponents to under 12 points in a half. Last week against Laramie County, SLCC had a 36-6 lead with two minutes remaining in the first half. When the Golden Eagles broke a six-minute-long scoreless streak to score their eighth point, the Bruins were bummed out.

"You would have thought we lost the national championship," Parrish said.

With SWAC play now here — the Bruins play 8-6 Snow College today at 3 p.m. in Ephraim — Parrish says challenging for the conference title hinges on whether his team can keep up its frenetic defensive pace.

"That's our key is we gotta keep showing up and working our tails off," he said.

Green believes SLCC's style gets to opponents. The Bruins are aggressive and communicate. Their foes become agitated and sloppy, turning the ball over an average of 20.9 times.

"We are all up in the offensive player," Green said. "We don't play soft. We don't play off them. We play hands everywhere, it works."

The Bruins are lighting it up offensively as well with an 85.7-point average. They're doing that despite the departure of standout big man Gary Wilkinson, who moved on to Utah State and left the Bruins without a dominant post player and offensive go-to guy.

The sharpshooting 5-11 Green has been SLCC's biggest scoring threat so far. He's averaging 14.6 points and is hitting 57 percent of his 3-pointers. He leads the nation in free-throw shooting at 100 percent (19-for-19).

Point guard Davell Jackson and forward Vassy Banny are also averaging double figures at just under 11 points, and six other players contribute 4.7 points or more in a fairly balanced offensive attack.

"We don't have an all-star on our team and that's what's cool 'cause we all get along with each other," Green said. "We don't care if someone scores 20 points and then someone else scores 20 points or whatever. We are all just playing defense and it feeds off to offense and that's how we're winning."

On second thought, pinch Parrish. How many coaches would dream of having nut cases like that?

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