Before North Idaho College made the move from the National Junior College Athletic Association to the more local, budget-friendly Northwest Athletic Conference in 2016, it produced All-Americans and future Division I talent at a heavy clip.
Full-ride scholarships, a scenic campus and the talent-rich NJCAA Region 18 helped bring in high-level athletes from across the world.
The Cardinals – still an NJCAA member for wrestling, NIC’s longtime winner with 14 national team titles – found success in the 2000s well beyond the mat room with several deep national tournament runs, and No. 1 rankings in multiple sports.
NIC helped develop a throng of under-the-radar recruits into eventual stars, including James Webb III, a forward from Atlanta who went to thrive Boise State and become the first NIC product to appear in an NBA regular-season game in 2017 with the Brooklyn Nets.
Former Freeman High point guard Korina Baker – NIC’s interim women’s basketball coach – was another obscure talent whose stock rose significantly at NIC, helping the Cardinals win a national title in 2011 before continuing to have a solid Conference USA career at Southern Methodist.
The college on the lake – now home to one of the NWAC’s most successful athletic departments – has had dozens of memorable athletes since 2000. Here’s our top 20.
1. Braian Angola, men’s basketball (2014-2016)
The long, athletic guard led the Cardinals to a combined 54-9 record in two seasons, including a 2016 Scenic West Athletic Conference title and the program’s first NJCAA tournament appearance since 1997.
Angola – a native of Colombia and member of the country’s national team – was a first-team NJCAA All-American at NIC and Region 18 Player of Year as a sophomore after averaging 21.4 points, 6.5 rebounds and 4.3 assists. Highly recruited, Angola went on to Florida State and appeared in two NCAA Tournaments, averaging 12.5 points as a senior. Played with the Orlando Magic’s summer league team and plays professionally in Serbia.
2. Keri Stanley, wrestling (2001-2003)
NIC hasn’t had a two-time national champion wrestler since the early 1990s, but Stanley was close.
The Columbia Falls, Montana, native placed second at the NJCAA championships as a freshman before taking home the title in 2003, helping the Cardinals claim a national team title. Stanley went on to wrestle in the tradition-rich Big Ten Conference at Minnesota.
3. Tugce Canitez, women’s basketball (2010-2012)
Canitez, a rare two-time NJCAA All-American, helped lead NIC to a 2011 national championship, averaging 15.2 points and 9.8 rebounds in the title run. The 6-foot-2 forward from Turkey signed with Big East power and NCAA Tournament regular DePaul but instead attended Westmont (California) due to NCAA clearinghouse issues relating to her overseas transfer. Canitez went on to become the NAIA Player of the Year and played for Turkey in the 2012 and 2016 Olympics. She plays professionally in Turkey.
4. Brian Farber, men’s soccer (2000-2002)
The best high school player in the state of Idaho as a senior, Farber – a Sandpoint product – went on to become NIC’s all-time points leader before signing with Oregon State and earning All-Pac 10 honors.
Farber, a member of the NIC Athletics Hall of Fame, has enjoyed a long professional career that includes a stop with the Portland Timbers. He is a member of the San Diego Sockers of the Major Arena Soccer League.
5. Kelcey Cavan, softball (2005-2007)
NIC rode the arm of Cavan to the 2007 NJCAA national title game, a season in which the All-American pitcher led the country in strikeouts (404). She also was a two-time Region 18 Tournament MVP and threw four no-hitters during the 2007 season. Cavan, a Montana native who initially came to NIC to play volleyball, went on to pitch at the University of Washington.
6. Yang Yang, volleyball (2011-2013)
A 6-foot middle blocker from China, Yang was the only two-time NJCAA All-American in program history, helping the Cardinals reach two national tournaments and brief No. 1 ranking. Yang had 392 kills and 286 digs as a sophomore before signing with Rocky Mountain College, where she was an NAIA All-American and Frontier Conference Player of the Year. She is the head coach at Rocky Mountain.
7. Dajour Reece, wrestling (2014-2016)
The former Arizona prep wrestling star had one of the best two-year careers in NIC wrestling history, winning a 165-pound NJCAA championship in 2016 after placing second as a freshman in 2015.
8, Michael Hale, men’s basketball (2009-2011)
The electric guard was a two-time NJCAA All-American and helped the Cardinals earn a brief No. 1 ranking, averaging 17.8 points, 4.2 assists and two steals as a sophomore. Hale went on to have a solid career at The University of Texas-San Antonio, averaging 12.7 points and 3.5 assists and earned All-Western Athletic Conference honors.
9. Kama Griffitts, women’s basketball (2009-2011)
NIC kept one of its best local players home in Griffitts, a versatile wing and Coeur d’Alene High graduate. The two-time All-American spearheaded the Cardinals’ 2011 national title run and was named the NJCAA Tournament MVP. Griffitts went to play in the Pac-12 at Arizona, averaging 10 points and four rebounds in two seasons.
10. Mac Hopson, men’s basketball (2005-2006)
Hopson, a sure-handed combo guard, helped NIC capture a SWAC title in his lone junior college season, averaging 13.7 points, 3.8 assists, 4.4 rebounds and 2.1 steals. He signed with Washington State, which qualified for the NCAA Tournament in Hopson’s lone season in Pullman. He transferred to nearby Idaho, where he was a two-time All-WAC selection before pursuing a professional career overseas .
Next 10: Israel Martinez, wrestling (2001-2002); Collese Dornan, volleyball (2004-2006); Brayon Blake, men’s basketball (2014-2016); Kay Hill, women’s basketball (2005-2007); Angie Boardman, softball (2005-2007); Ozzie Saxon, wrestling (2001-2002); Shelby Gonzalez, softball (2010-2011); RayQuan Evans, men’s basketball (2017-2019), Natalie Nichols, women’s soccer (2007); Heinrich Barnes, wrestling (2005-2007).
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