North Idaho College did more than just win men’s basketball games during a late-season hot stretch.
In a less distinguishable statistic, the Cardinals rejuvenated Coach Rolly Williams.
“We ended up as a pretty good basketball team and it was really helpful to me professionally this year,” said Williams, whose 34th NIC team finished 18-15 following a loss to College of Southern Idaho in the Region 18 title game on Saturday. “I’ve had a tendency to take a lot of things for granted over the years and a lot of things have come rather easy at North Idaho College.
“When you have a Paul Rogers (in 1993-94), it makes you look pretty good as a basketball coach. This year we had a good bunch of kids, but we needed to get ourselves organized. It brought me back into more of a mentality of coaching basketball, and I appreciate that aspect. That’s something the kids gave back to me.”
The 1994-95 season was truly the best of times and the worst of times. NIC’s early play spawned much hand wringing and yawning. Slowly, the Cards progressed. Still, they were just 6-7 in mid-December.
“It was frustrating to watch our guys in practice shoot the hell out of it and we’d be going 100 miles an hour,” Williams said. “Then we’d go play and nothing.”
Some confidence-building wins followed - over Utah Valley and Ricks, and finally Dixie, on the the last weekend of the regular season.
The Cardinals blossomed at regionals, swatting Ricks and Salt Lake before bowing to CSI. NIC’s 18-15 record was its worst since 1974-75’s 10-17 mark.
“He’s pretty quiet, but you could tell (Williams) was pretty happy at the end,” said freshman guard Jamie Snook, one of eight freshmen that will lead the 1995-96 team.
There is balance in the potential returners. Steve Helm plays point guard, Snook plays point or offguard, and Tijuan Dial is a longdistance shooter. “All three are offguard types if they played their true positions, but I asked all three to learn point-guard responsibilities,” Williams said.
Athletic wing Troy Thompson emerged as an inside-outside scorer.
The team’s progress was best reflected by the development of forward Eric Sanchez and posts Roy Kruiswyk and Luke Palumbis.
Sanchez was NIC’s emotional leader by the end of the year. His scoring, rebounding and defense was superior the last three weeks.
Kruiswyk became a dominant rebounder, and Palumbis is swift-footed and capable of mid-range jumpers. Seldom-used pivot Tio Beall must develop other attributes to accompany his 3-point shooting.
NIC’s lone sophomores were Eddie Turner, perhaps the league’s top guard behind CSI’s Ed Gray, and wing Teodor Russinov.
“We need to supplement this (returning) group. I feel good about their potential, not just because they’re good basketball players, but they’re a good group of kids,” said Williams, who plans on returning next year, then evaluate his future following the season. “When you have that many good kids, they can help you handle some adversity.”
For affirmation, he need only to look back at the 1994-95 season.