HUTCHINSON, Kan. Quite a few basketball guys with Utah ties are participating in the NJCAA championship tournament and they aren't all from Salt Lake Community College.
Surprisingly, Eastern Wyoming College located in the metropolis of Torrington has almost as many Utah players on its roster as the Bruins do.
Salt Lake has four Utah players Drew Robinson (Lehi HS), Chris Medina (Ben Lomond HS), Brian Green (Davis HS) and Andy Palmer (Pine View HS) but that's just one more than the Lancers.
Located near the Nebraska border, Eastern Wyoming has three former Utah high school all-staters on its roster. They include: freshman Jordan Johnson (Delta HS), freshman George Williams (Valley HS) and sophomore Casey Robinson (Manila HS).
Robinson, a 6-foot-6 sophomore, scored the most of the Utah contingency on Tuesday with 20 points. He also had six rebounds, three assists and a blocked shot, but his big game came in an 83-70 loss to Three Rivers (Mo.) Community College in the opening round.
After earning Deseret Morning News first-team all-state honors with Manila in 2006, Robinson took his 20-point, 12-rebound average to Western Wyoming last year. He then followed coach Casey Jones to Eastern Wyoming, where he met up with Williams and Johnson.
"It's been great out there at EWC," Robinson said. "I couldn't ask for anything more."
Having a couple of guys from his home state has been helpful. He played against Williams in 1A ball.
"It's just good to have them there some people that I know," Robinson said.
Former Dixie State coach Jeff Kidder, who guided the '02 Rebels to their championship and earned national juco coach of the year honors, now coaches at Indian Hills (Iowa) Community College. He has been with the Warriors, who play Itawamba College today at 10 a.m., since 2005. He averaged 27 wins in eight seasons at Dixie before the college began its NCAA transition.
RISE AND (EVENTUALLY) SHINE: Their first-round NJCAA tourney game tipped at 10 a.m. CDT (9 a.m. MDT), which meant the Bruins had to eat breakfast at 7:30 a.m. and be at the arena at 9. But players said jitters, not bad hotel bagels or a noxious liquid in their cereal, caused SLCC's rough start that required a big comeback Tuesday.
"It's been a week and a half since we've played, so we got a little butterflies," said SLCC guard DaVell Jackson, who also thought the spacious 7,600-seat arena played a part.
SLCC guard Brian Green is just relieved the Bruins survived.
"We'd never played in a national tournament. We came out slow," he said. "It took awhile and finally just everyone started meshing and finally started playing as a team. That's what we did in the final six minutes."
That's when the Bruins turned an 11-point deficit into a four-point win.
ODD CALL: SLCC was on the bad end of a strange call in the final seconds of its win Tuesday. Guard DaVell Jackson dove for a bad pass from a teammate after the Bruins made a steal, and the whistle was blown while he was sliding on the floor for the loose ball. The referee awarded Vincennes a timeout and the ball, even though the Trailblazers didn't have possession of the ball.
That gave Vincennes a chance to tie it with a 3-pointer with 16 seconds left.
The nonpartisan crowd at the Hutchinson Sports Arena booed, and SLCC coach Norm Parrish went bonkers asking how a team that didn't have possession could call a timeout and be rewarded with the ball.
Turns out, it didn't matter. Vincennes missed a wild shot, and Vassy Banny hit a free throw with 4.5 seconds left to ice the Bruins' win. Parrish said the ref told him he hoped the call wouldn't change the game's outcome.
"I don't think they're used to seeing players dive for the ball," Jackson said.
"Especially DaVell," joked SLCC's Green, who had a huge raspberry on his elbow from skidding on the court.
WORTH ITS SALT: Salt Lake Community College got some love from the local newspaper, which gives exhaustive coverage of the NJCAA tournament. Part of the reason for the Bruin support was because of its No. 4 national ranking.
Another reason: the name of its college.
Hutchinson, the annual home of the NJCAA championship, is called the "Salt City" because of its massive salt mines. There is even a 650-foot man-made mine shaft bored in salt rock that is a tourist attraction. For that reason, sports columnist Harold Bechard of The Hutchinson News picked Salt Lake to win the national championship in Tuesday's 16-page tournament special section.
"I chose the (Scenic West Athletic Conference) champion Salt Lake Community College Bruins," Bechard wrote. "And why not? Salt Lake winning it all in the Salt City has a nice ring to it, doesn't it?"The other four News sports writers picked second-ranked Chipola (Fla.) College, which features Kansas commit Mario Little. They all had SLCC as a top-four finisher or as a dark horse, though.