Sunday, May 24, 2009

CSI: Twin Falls (Id.)

Note: This article originally appeared at NBE Basketball Report.

It was only a decade ago when Steve Francis and Shawn Marion were each selected within the first nine picks of the 1999 NBA Draft. Both Francis and Marion were junior college products who played only one year of Division-I basketball before turning pro.

Since then, though, it seems that the number of talented junior college products becoming impact Division-I and professional players has decreased tremendously.

The College of Southern Idaho, however, is continuing to buck the trend.
CSI, the winningest program in junior college history, will send players to the Mountain West and WAC conferences next season and Nate Miles, a former Connecticut signee, has a chance to be selected in next month’s draft.

Things could get even better in the next couple of seasons too, as head coach Steve Gosar has a plethora of players getting major-conference interest.

This past season, the Golden Eagles did not reach the NJCAA Tournament in Hutchinson, Kan., finishing third in the Scenic West Athletic Conference. However, while first-year coach Gosar did not consider it a success because they didn’t get to the tournament, he did say that it was not all bad.

“Every year we don’t reach Hutchinson is a disappointment,” he said. “But we signed 14 new players, we had a new staff and a new head coach. It was okay for a transition year.”

The addition of Miles brought Southern Idaho some attention early last season, after he was dismissed from Connecticut for allegedly abusing a female student and then violating a restraining order.

He played nine games for CSI, averaging over 19 points per game. CSI went 6-3 to finish the season with Miles in the lineup.

“We always keep tabs on a guy like Nate,” Gosar said. “When a player goes to four different schools, there’s always a chance the NCAA will red flag that.”

Gosar described how a program like Southern Idaho – and most junior colleges – recruit and attract players, and how so many talented players come to a place like Twin Falls, Idaho.

“We recruit like everyone else,” he said. “We keep track of kids, get names from Division-I programs. We talk to AAU coaches about kids, and then recruit the hell out of them. Then we find out what kids don’t have grades.”

The winning tradition was started by legendary coach Eddie Sutton, who was CSI’s first coach in 1966. It will undoubtedly continue under Gosar, who will have a multitude of talented players on next year’s roster.

Chief among them is 7-foot center Aziz N’Diaye, who averaged 8.5 points, 7.9 rebounds and more than two blocks per game last season.

“Every high-major is on him,” Gosar said. “Alabama is on him, I mean, everybody in the Big 12, SEC, everyone in the Big East.”

N’Diaye is a native of Senegal who previously attended Lake Forest Academy in Illinois. He received plenty of high-major interest while at LFA, including from DePaul. Kentucky also had sent assistant Tracy Webster to see N’Diaye when Billy Gillispie was the head coach. Webster is now an assistant with the Blue Demons.

A familiar name who will make an impact at Southern Idaho next season is Josten Thomas, who played at DeSoto God’s Academy in Texas last year and Temple Hills (Md.) Progressive Christian prior to that.

Before joining the team late in the season (but not appearing in any games), Thomas was getting interest from Kentucky, Connecticut, West Virginia, Texas A&M, TCU and South Carolina. Gosar doesn’t expect the interest to decrease anytime soon.

“He’s a 6-7, 235 lb. wing who has an inside-outside game,” Gosar said. “He’s really strong. Connecticut is showing him interest, Kentucky was before Billy Gillispie left, and so are Oklahoma and Baylor.”

Another player to keep an eye on is Charles Odum, a 6-foot guard from California who averaged nearly three assists and more than one steal per game in only 18.3 minutes per contest.

“He’s a real strong, athletic point guard, and can really be a lockdown defender,” Gosar said, naming Oklahoma and UNLV as colleges interested in Odum.

Two newcomers that Gosar expects to pay immediate dividends next season are Pierre Jackson, a freshman from Las Vegas, and Antonio Owens, an incoming transfer from Los Angeles City College who player high school ball in Kentucky.

Gosar said Jackson is a “5-9, 5-10” guard who is a very talented player, while Owens is a really talented wing.

Although the majority of the team is set in stone, Gosar did say that there could be another one or two players added to the roster before next season. He does not mind taking chances on players who made mistakes at other schools and are looking for another opportunity.

“That’s what junior college is,” Gosar said. “A lot of these kids have had problems, and this is a second chance to get your life right.

“We’re just looking for the best players we can get. Better players make us better coaches.”

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