Balanced, defensive minded Blue Devils are primed for NJCAA National Tournament

Published 5:52 pm Monday, March 11, 2024

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When this season began, the Riverland Community College men’s basketball team didn’t have the look of a national contender.

The Blue Devils had just one player back with big-time experience and head coach Derek Hahn had to figure out who was going to play with which role. When the smoke cleared, the Blue Devils became a balanced, defense-minded team that will now play in the NJCAA Divison III National Tournament in Herkimer College in Herkimer, New York.

This will be RCC’s second tournament appearance in the last three years under Hahn. The Blue Devils (29-3 overall) will open up tournament play against Prince George’s (22-7 overall) at 3 p.m. Wednesday.

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“I’m excited that we don’t have a first round bye because last time I think it allowed teams to settle into that environment quicker than we did,” Hahn said. “We like where we’re at and we hope to continue to play well.”

Savier McCall, who is RCC’s biggest returnee, is averaging 15.8 points per game, DeWayne Thompson averages 14.7 points per game and Christian Campbell averages 10.3 per game, but the Blue Devils have plenty of other scoring options as seven players average at least 7.0 points per game.

Austin grad Buai Duop averages 6.5 points and 5.8 rebounds for RCC.

“It’s been nice to see multiple guys stepping up. We’ve got a pretty solid core of 10,” Hahn said. ”If you try to play through just a few guys and force shots, you won’t be very successful. As far as guys buying in, it’s been a natural process. If you want scholarships you have to win, because if you’re not winning then nobody’s going to want to sign you. The leadership of this group polices itself.”

When RCC went to the national tournament three years ago, it was the first time the program had ever gone that far. The Blue Devils picked up two of the biggest wins in RCC history in that run as they went 2-1.

Hahn learned from those games and he also learned a little bit about scheduling. This time around, he made sure his team arrived two days before their first game.

“When you go through the process you get to know people. The first time through I was reaching out to a lot of people I’m connected with and now that I’ve gone through it, I’ve got a better idea,” Hahn said. “It was a wild 24 hours for us to get here and a lot of us are dealing with jet lag. For us to go through that and not have to play the next day is crucial.”

Two of RCC’s losses this season were to Rainy River, which beat the Blue Devils in the Region XIII title game. Fortunately for RCC, they were able to receive an at-large bid to become one of the 12 teams to reach the National Tournament.

“We had some really good teams in the past that lost in the Regional championship that never received an at-large bid and we’re thankful that the committee gave us a second chance,” Hahn said. “The goal is obviously a national championship and that means you’ve got to get four wins in four days. I know how hard that is, but that’s the goal. The bigger goal is to be competitive at this level and we want our guys to get themselves a chance to earn full scholarships against the nation’s best at our level.”

Hahn, who is a former RCC basketball and baseball player, thanked the staff at RCC and the community for their support of a basketball program that has grown vastly in recent years.

“Any time you’re an alumni, you’re going to be biased towards your own school, but I think there is a standard that has been set here by our previous coaches and I don’t think it’s a surprise when we turn in 29-3 seasons now,” Hahn said. “At the same time, 20-win seasons are hard to come by and I would never say the expectation is that we knew that we would be here, but the guys put in a lot of time and work to get to where we are.”