Special to The Flash from Tommy Wells
Ranger College Public Information Officer/Sports Information Director
Ranger College head coach Billy Clyde Gillispie isn’t one to buy into a team’s pre-conference record. Tradition and talent still mean something, he feels. And that is why he feels the North Texas Junior College Athletic Conference championship is a wide-open race with Hill College and McLennan College leading the way in a 7-team scramble in which every team has a legitimate chance as grabbing one of the conference’s four berths in the upcoming Region V tournament in March.
“It is probably Hill and McLennan right now with the rest of us bunched in there after that,” said Gillispie. “Both of those teams (Hill and McLennan) have the tradition and talent to be very good. “Every team in the conference is in a closely bunched group capable of winning so it should be a lot of fun to watch as it plays out. To be sure, we’re trying to break into that group.”
Gillispie also praised the level of talent and coaching he has seen in his rookie season at the small college level. The talent on the court and on the sideline, he says, rivals that of any other division.
“There are some really, really good coaches and players in the league,” said Gillispie, who guided UTEP, Texas A&M and Kentucky to the NCAA national tournament earlier in his career. “I’ve been fortunate enough to have been at the highest level of college basketball in my career and I can tell you the coaching level here is equal to any of those. That makes for great basketball.”
Hill College is the early favorite to repeat as the NTJCAC champion, according to a poll of coaches in the conference. The Rebels enter NTJCAC play with a 13-2 record and ranked No. 11 in the latest NJCAA national poll.
Hill College, under the direction of coach Swede Trenkle, brings back several key contributors from last season’s team that won the conference title and earned an invitation to the national tournament.
Leading the way for the Rebels are sophomores Simpson Anderson and Brandon Jones.
McLennan, 16-2 and ranked No. 14 nationally, is led by coach Kevin Gill.
The Highlanders are paced by high-scoring freshman Shannon Bogues and sophomore Aundre Jackson. A 6-foot-2 freshman from Killeen, Bogues pushed in a team-high 21 points against nationally-ranked Odessa College last weekend at the Region V Shoot-Out.
McLennan also has a powerful force inside in the presence of 6-foot-7 freshman Fred Jackson, who yanked down 10 rebounds against OC.
Collin County and Weatherford were the preseason picks to claim the NTJCAC’s third- and fourth-place seeds. Temple, Ranger and Southwestern Christian Community College were picked fifth, sixth and seventh, respectively.
“They’re both very good teams,” Gillispie said. “Weatherford probably has the best player in the league, and Collin has a couple of really outstanding guards.”
Coming off a 2-23 campaign a year ago, Gillispie said he was excited that his team has opened the 2015-16 campaign with a 12-4 record. The record could be even better – at 16-0 except for an administrative error that forced the team to forfeit its first four games.
“It has been surprising so far,” he said. “We’re a work in progress. We aren’t anywhere near where we want to be, but the team is getting better every day.”
Ranger College is led into conference play by the three-pronged attack of Jordan Geist, Kris Clyburn and Joshua Simmons.
Gillispie said he talent level of each team will make the upcoming conference schedule a fun ride for the coaches, players and fans.
“You better be ready to play every games,” he said. “You have to love everything about this league. Every team, from top to bottom, has a chance to knock you off if you don’t show up ready to play.”
On the women’s side, Collin County was the pre-conference pick to repeat as champions. Collin County posted a 22-7 record a year ago and won the NTJCAC title with a 13-1 mark.
Collin County heads into this weekend’s opener against Hill College with a 12-4 record.
McLennan College, Cisco and Hill were picked second, third and fourth, respectively.
Hill College is 13-4.
The McLennan women enter their showdown with rival Ranger at 5-10.
The Ranger College women, backed by the stellar play of Kirsten Fellow and Mariah Merriweather, roll into conference play at 7-4.
In other women’s conference action this weekend, Temple College (8-8) will play Cisco College (4-11), while Weatherford College (2-10) will matchup against Southwestern Christian (0-12).
NTJCAC Pre-conference Poll
The following is a look at the predicted order of finish this season in the North Texas Junior College Athletic Conference’s men’s and women’s races, according to a poll of member coaches in October.
Collin County CC
Southwestern Christian CC
Collin County CC
Southwestern Christian CC