When the 2013-14 season ended, head coach Joe Kuhn’s program was narrowly defeated by eventual national champion, Rock Valley, 72-70 in the Region IV Championship game. The loss had come just ten days after undersized JJC defeated that same Rock Valley team, 74-65, in a thrilling home victory on Feb. 19.
21-11, second place within N4C, and boasting a 15-0 home record for the season isn’t the worst way to go out. But for JJC, the point is typically to not go out at all.
The general feeling after that season-ending loss was that in order to be the champ, you had to at least come to play with the same kind of artillery that the champ did.
“Obviously, Rock Valley won it all last year, and they set the bar high,” said assistant coach Keith Kinzler.
Head Coach Joe Kuhn added, “We measured ourselves against Rock Valley and knew we needed to add size and a go-to scorer.”
The Wolves seem to have achieved that with an incoming class that has the potential to bring more than anyone – even the coaches – were expecting.
SIZE, SCORING AND EXPERIENCE
Over the summer, JJC added Darious Randolph, a 6’5” forward originally out of Plainfield South, as well as a one-year standout at Wilbur Wright.
After a dominating 2012-13 campaign at Wilbur Wright that saw him average 18 points per game and 7 rebounds per game, Randolph sat out last season due to academic concerns.
Now, at (23?), with employment opportunities bringing him back to his hometown in Joliet, Randolph decided to give it one more go, while also finally giving JJC a bit of a reprieve after turning down Kuhn’s program – not once, but twice.
“Oh man,” Randolph chuckled as he took a couple steps back. “Turn that off,” he said, pointing to the microphone recording his not-so-subtle embarrassment. After a moment, Randolph explained that “any time you’re born and raised somewhere like Joliet, your goal is always to get away from here. I was rebellious, I was always wanting to get away from here.”
Randolph went on to explain that, as employment opportunities presented themselves back home, as well as a chance to finish school, he decided to give JJC a shot, in part because of what he was hearing about the program.
“They kept saying they had a championship team, and I wanted to see what a championship team looked like.”
That championship team Randolph was sold on will be deep, not only in talent, but in depth.
Rookie Jalen Blackmon, a 6’3” forward out of East Chicago Central, IN, was regarded by Kinzler as “an offensive rebound machine,” and a high-motor athlete who stops only when the whistle blows.
Returning from last year’s squad is Kylee Beheler, a 6’7” forward who averaged 4.5 points per game and 4.6 rebounds per game, as well as starting point guard Larry Moore, who established himself last season as the team’s undisputed leader.
Curtis Harrington, a 5’7” guard originally out of Plainfield Central, and 6’6” forward Uchenna Akuba, originally out of Romeoville, both come to JJC this season after a year with University of Dubuque. Along with Randolph, the three transplanted players bring not only size, scoring and pedigree, but experience at this level that will be invaluable come January.
HUND TO BE UNLEASHED
Freshman Matt Hund is a peculiar specimen.
Standing 6’7” with only 180 pounds on him, he doesn’t necessarily strike one as a potentially dominating force. For those that judge on first impressions, they will be in for a huge surprise the first four times the kid slams home a put back, or spreads the floor by knocking down a 15-20 foot jump shot more than once-every-blue-moon.
Kinzler raved about the team’s newest forward, saying “he dunks so easy, it’s sick.” Kinzler went on, saying “he’s a really athletic kid and he’s going to be able to (use his size and) affect some shots, which is something we really missed here the last couple of seasons.”
Hund’s newest teammate, Randolph, said that Hund believes this Wolves team will be “the L.A. Clippers and the Golden State Warriors.” An exciting prospect for those looking for entertaining local basketball.
Hund himself believes his relentlessness on every play will form his biggest strength. “I love to play to the whistle, and sometimes beyond it.”
To add to his already-impressive repertoire, Hund also cited a love for offensive rebounding, something players love to think about being good at, but a trait Hund has a natural knack for.
Larry Moore is the de-facto leader on this team. Both Kuhn and Kinzler immediately marked him as such when asked. New star Randolph called him the team’s “anchor.” Kinzler also noted that, when it comes to basketball I.Q., Moore leads the way.
“I always lean towards the point guard (in terms of highest I.Q.)”, Kinzler said. “He always has the ball in his hands and has control of the offense.”
Able to rest on those laurels if he would have liked, Moore instead worked tirelessly on his game over the summer, according to Kinzler, hoping to improve his shot, making him an even more useful and multi-purposed weapon.
Around Moore, however, are guys who can lead at a moment’s notice, guys who have played this game, at this level, and guys who have won and thrive under the discipline of a successful program, and a successful, if not hard-nosed head coach.
“Coach Joe runs a tight ship,” said Randolph. “I have so much respect for Coach Joe; when I played against him (during the 2012-13 season), I did my thing, but (JJC) still won.”
FUN AND WINS
The word being tossed around this team is “fun”. It’s important that these guys gel, come together and have fun. Through that, along with the expert tutelage of such an experienced and synergized coaching staff, should come a heap of wins, and nothing is more fun than winning.
Joel served seven years in the U.S. Coast Guard (2005-2012) and wrote sports columns for the Corpus Christi Caller-Times in Texas from April 2009 to October 2014.