Finding playing time for impressive roster is good problem for NIC coach
Every indication points to North Idaho College men’s basketball coach Jared Phay’s ninth season being his best.
Now all that has to happen is potential to be realized.
There’s no question that NIC will feature some of the best talent its had under Phay, and arguably the deepest roster.
It begins with 6-foot-8 sophomore Michael Middlebrooks (Rainier Beach), a first team all-Scenic West Athletic Conference selection last year. He led the SWAC in rebounding and blocked shots.
Middlebrooks is joined by 6-2 sophomore guard Keon Lewis (Chief Sealth), a second team all-SWAC pick and 7-0 sophomore center Kaj Sherman (Mercer Island), honorable mention all-SWAC. Lewis is the Cardinals’ top returning scorer (14.5 points per game).
It doesn’t stop there, though. Redshirt freshman Chris Sarbaugh (Gonzaga Prep), who transferred from Gonzaga University, has secured the starting job at point guard.
Phay has been impressed with Sarbaugh’s transition to NIC.
“You split up the team for scrimmages and 90 percent of the time the team Sarbaugh is on wins,” Phay said.
Another player in the mix for a starting job is 6-9 freshman James Webb (Augusta, Ga.), who was an NCAA Division I nonqualifier.
Players fighting for time are 6-0 sophomore Mikey Hope, a transfer from Evergreen State College; 6-3 freshman Cole Luckett (Auburn, Wash.), who redshirted last year after a knee injury; 6-4 sophomore Jalil Abdul-Bassit (Anchorage, Alaska), a transfer from Monroe Junior College; 6-9 freshman Nathan Rathbun (Deary, Idaho); and 6-6 sophomore Jordan McCloud (Federal Way).
“I like our depth but you can’t play 12 guys in a game,” Phay said. “And when you get into conference, your rotation usually goes down to eight or nine.
“Jalil could be our best player,” Phay said. “He’s unbelievably talented. He just gets in his own way. He’s long, athletic and shoots it well.”
Phay likes the conference schedule. Like last year, NIC will play each team three times. Sometimes they’ll play a team twice at home, sometimes they’ll play a team twice on the road. This year, NIC plays its three toughest opponents – College of Southern Idaho, Salt Lake Community College and Snow College – twice on their courts.
“We’ll see how we handle adversity and how tough mentally we become,” Phay said.
The conference rotates its tournament and NIC will play host to the men’s and women’s tourneys (Feb. 28-March 2).
The Cardinals are two years removed from their magic run that ended in a NJCC championship.
Whether NIC has deep-season capability remains to be seen, but Cardinals coach Chris Carlson likes the makeup of his team.
“We have seven returners and all of them played a lot. And we have three freshmen that have potential to start.”
NIC returns three starters, including 5-8 Katie Buskey (Maple Valley, Wash.), second team all-SWAC, and 6-3 Danika Johnson (Kalispell, Mont.). Splitting a position last year was 5-9 Angela Woods (Lynnwood, Wash.) and 5-11 Aimee Durbidge (Coffs Harbour, Australia).
Also back are 5-11 Hannah Love (West Valley), 5-9 Mollie Kramer (Colton) and 5-3 Tori Davenport (Post Falls).
Kabri Emerson (Butte, Mont.), a 6-3 transfer, and 5-8 Georgia Stirton (Melbourne, Australia) and 6-0 Renae Mokrzycki (Cranbourne, Australia), both freshmen, are fighting for starting spots.
Jeremy Groth, a four-year assistant coach, takes over after Clint Hull resigned in early October.
Groth is thankful that he’s been around the program and is familiar with the returners and newcomers.
“I like how they’ve responded to everything,” Groth said. “The come every single day ready to give their best effort and compete.”
CCS has a lot of scoring to replace with the departure of Preston Wynne (Wellpinit), who rewrote the school’s record book.
The key returners are 6-2 Eric Hollbrook (Priest River), 6-3 Brady Bagby (West Valley) and 6-9 Luke Evans (North Central). Stefan Buratto (Sandpoint), who redshirted last year, returns along with 6-4 Tyler Edwards (Cusick).
Others in the mix are TJ Bracey (Gonzaga Prep), Chase Haack (Ferris), Mitch Vanderwiel (Cole Valley, Boise) and Jack Nygaard (Kamiah, Idaho).
The Sasquatch are coming off their worst season under coach Bruce Johnson, who enters his 25th year.
“We’re much better than last year,” reports Johnson. “It was a nightmare. We lost three starters from the get go. We weren’t very good and it showed.”
Naturally Johnson expects much improvement.
“I’m looking forward to having some athletes after not having them last year,” Johnson said.
CCS returns one starter – 5-6 Jorden Brons (Colville). The Sasquatch also bring back 5-7 Amelia Cook and 5-6 Kylie Tareski, both from Medical Lake, and 5-8 Breanna Wilson (Travis Air Force Base).
Johnson is also excited about freshman transfer Riley Holsinger (North Central), who accepted a scholarship at Boise State University but got homesick. Others Johnson is high on are 5-11 freshman Tamar Williams (Boise) and 6-0 freshman Morgan Freeman (Hanford).