These T-Birds are 'versatile hard to guard'Inside-outside balance has this flock ranked among the favorites in Region IX
Take a trip by the Casper College athletic department and you will see a sign on the men’s locker room door: “73-70.” The same signs are on the coaches’ doors.
That was the score of last year’s Region IX championship game. Joel Davidson’s Thunderbirds came up one possession short in their quest for a trip to the national tournament, falling victim to a hot-shooting Otero Junior College team.
It marked the third consecutive year that Davidson’s teams had reached the Final Four of the tournament only to come up agonizingly short. Still keenly aware of how long it has been since Casper has hung a men’s championship banner (1996), the coaching staff decided to remind themselves (and everyone else) each day what the score was a year ago.
“The bar is still as high as it has been,” says Davidson, who enters his fifth season at Casper.
Some key players, of course, are gone from that 2012 team. Denzel Douglas and Tyler Larson, perimeter players who have gone on to the University of Idaho and South Dakota respectively, were all region and all tournament caliber players. That leadership and presence on the floor will be missed, according to Davidson. Sam Johnson, Deninson Burguillos and Cobi Eskew have moved on too.
Such is the life of a junior college coach. Each year, if things go according to plan, the program loses half its roster.
The good news for T-Bird fans is that four key players from that 25-9 campaign do return. Couple that with a good recruiting year – at least on paper – and one can understand why fellow NJCAA coaches helped place Casper in the Top 15 in the preseason national rankings.
Remi Dibo, who as a freshman showed promising range and some reluctance to bang inside, decided to return for a sophomore season. Dibo had redshirted the previous year and could have signed with a 4-year school last spring. Instead, he came back and has already shown tremendous strides.
“Obviously Remi is one of the first players you notice,” Davidson says. “He is highly talented and highly recruited, but we have three other sophomore leaders who will be important to our success.”
Dominique and Demetrius Lee, twin brothers from Compton, Calif. will finally play a first season together since high school. Dominique redshirted a year at Utah before transferring to Casper. He then broke his leg the fall of his freshman season. Meanwhile Demetrius played a year, redshirted, and is back for his sophomore year. Both are 6-4, athletic and talented.
Austin Kofoed, the quiet sophomore from Evanston, earned a lot of praise from his coach this fall. “Austin is off to a good start shooting the ball and he is so solid defensively. He does the dirty work. You hope that rubs off; if we could get everyone to do the dirty work like he does we would be pretty good.”
When you lose a two-year starter like Douglas at the point, that was obviously an area of concern going into the off-season. Casper caught a break when Corey Spence, a point guard from Baltimore who played his freshman year at South Plains College (Texas), decided to transfer. Davidson had recruited Spence out of high school. The 5-10 bullet would have been sharing duties at the point in South Plains and wanted to play more minutes his sophomore season. He has been electric at times but Davidson is hoping for more consistency. He likes the fact that his point guard has “been around the block.”
Ryan Madsen, from Wheatland, is another newcomer who has had an immediate impact. Madsen poured in 28 in his first road game at Cheyenne and started in the home opener. “We have thought all along that (Madsen) was a steal,” Davidson says.
Madsen and Jonathan Blythers, a 6-2 guard from Rochester, N.Y., give the T-Birds a zone-stretching double threat on the outside. Blythers, according to Davidson, “can score in a hurry.”
Lew Evans (Salt Lake City) and Jake Johnson (Reno. Nev.) give the Thunderbirds some big men who can shoot. Both 6-10ers, when settled in, should give Casper a legitimate inside option.
The roster is deep and talented, and that should be an advantage to Davidson, who loves to play 94 feet. This is a team that is versatile and tough to guard. There are some shooters and some “bigs.”
This year, the north sub region winner hosts the men’s Region IX tournament. Winning the north, then, has become a primary goal.
The pieces are there. The goals are in place. And so is that sign on the doors, reminding these T-Birds of last year’s score.
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