By SCOTT JACKSON
Courier sports writer
---- — OTTUMWA — Two years ago, it truly was time to meet a brand new Indian Hills basketball team. That included an official introduction to the man that had been chosen to guide the program back to national championship contention.
Barret Peery admitted on Tuesday that, two years ago, he didn’t quite know what to expect or what to say when he first addressed the Warrior basketball faithful at his first ever ‘Meet The Warriors’ event prior to the 2011-12 season.
In fact, Peery freely admitted that on Tuesday during his third ‘Meet The Warriors’ night. Two years later, Peery opened up about plenty of things in a free-flowing address to the same, growing group of fans that he now addresses as the ‘Warrior Nation.’
As he prepares to take his third IHCC basketball team into action next week, Peery has gone from a coach with a lot of introductions to make on ‘Meet The Warriors’ night to a coach that considers these fans all a part of his extended family.
“One of the biggest things for me is that I’m not a big closed door guy. What you see is what you get with me,” Peery said. “My practices are open. My office is always open. I wanted to get to know everybody and where everybody felt welcomed into our program. Whenever the fans are around, it makes the program that much stronger. It shows that we’re all in this together.”
Peery’s comfort level with the Warrior fans was on full display throughout Tuesday night. The coach was part motivator, part roast master at times as drew plenty of applause and plenty of laughs during the activities that took place during ‘Meet The Warriors.’
All in a day’s work for the man that has made IHCC a perennial national power, including this season as a Warrior team with only one returning sophomore still has the type of talent and respect to draw the preseason No. 1 ranking by The Sporting News.
“This is our home right here and this is what we do,” Peery said. “I think everyone is really fired up to get back on the court. I think we’re going to be a better program for everything we’ve gone through together in the first two years.”
Roderick Bobbit knows just how different things were for his head coach on that first night in front of the Warrior fan base two years ago. Like Peery, Bobbit was also making his introduction that night as one of the many incoming freshmen that were part of that first recruiting class by the former Utah assistant coach.
The California native made his return to the Indian Hills basketball team on Tuesday and noticed a marked difference in the comfort level of his coach and the togetherness of the Warrior fans.
“I remember that first night and I remember we were all nervous. We didn’t know what to expect, but we wanted to give the fans a good show,” Bobbit said. “Coach looks way more comfortable now. I think that allowed us to come out here and put on a nice event for everyone.”
Peery, the fans and the players all enjoyed the activities that were scheduled for ‘Meet The Warriors.’ Four IHCC players, including Bobbit, took place in the 2013 ‘Warrior 3-point shootout’ which needed overtime to decide a winner.
Duquense sophomore transfer Quevyn Winters ended up beating Bobbitt and sophomore Majok Deng in the shoot off, hitting 9-12 in the extra round to beat out Deng. The lone second-year returning Warrior hit his first seven from beyond the arc showcasing a great shooting touch for the 6-10 post presence.
“It was looking good there,” Deng said. “I know I need to make those when they count during games. I got to get going every time, but I don’t want to rely on that. I want to do whatever is best to help the team.”
Peery, along with Warrior players Jordan Washington, Malik Dime and Akolda Manyang had plenty of fun bringing young IHCC hoops fans down to compete in the ‘big shoes, big uniform’ race. That event showcased an ease for even three of the newest members of the Warrior team to interact with the fans, something Peery and his players always strive for as part of the IHCC basketball program.
“The fans have put their arms around us and made us feel at home from day one,” Peery said while he, his coaches and his players signed several autographs inside the Hellyer Student Life Center on Tuesday. “We are at home here. We love what the people bring to the table and we love the responsibility of making sure we put a quality product on the floor that the fans can be proud of.” “We like to interact with the fans, especially the kids. I remember my freshman year all the fans that traveled all around to country to watch us play. We have a nice fan base and we wanted to show how appreciative we are,” Bobbit added.
Another sophomore transfer, Dominique Williams, took home the ‘Warrior slam-dunk’ title, putting home two straight impressive slams without a miss to beat out Pensacola J.C. transfer Dawud Saalam. The two skill competitions showed that, despite several new faces, Peery looks to have restocked Indian Hills with the type of talent that can continue the up-tempo style that has allowed the Warriors to go 59-8 over the past two seasons.
“We don’t know any other way to play it. We’re still going to be the same Indian Hills team that presses the pace of play on each end of the court. It’s going to be the same entertaining team we’ve always had,” Peery said.
Unlike two years ago, not only is Peery well established as the head coach of the Warriors running that successful up-tempo style, but this year’s IHCC basketball team features plenty of experience among the new faces. Eight players are sophomore transfers with six players having played last season at either four-year Division I programs or other top-tier JUCO schools.
That has made this year’s season of transition, with 12 of 14 players in their initial year within the Indian Hills program, a lot smoother already.
“We needed to go out and find those kids that were of the highest character and know what it means to be a part of the Indian Hills basketball program,” Peery said. “I think this team likes each other a lot. You spend a lot of time getting a team to enjoy each other’s company. I really think I’ve enjoyed this team as much as any team because they’re a team of guys who come ready to work together each day.”
The night concluded with all the Warrior fans in attendance, decked out in white T-shirts, joining Peery and his players on the court for a ‘Warrior Nation’ photo that will be on display at the Hellyer Center this season. Peery did address with those same Warrior fans the way the previous season ended, with a top-five national championship contending IHCC squad banned from postseason play after an NJCAA violation that occurred in the aftermath of an ugly postgame brawl following a double-overtime win at Southeastern.
“That’s so much water under the bridge, it’s not even worth going into,” Peery said. “What I can tell you is it made our coaches and myself that much hungrier to put another great IHCC team together. We went to work on that immediately. I like the team we’ve put together. I think the fans are going to like them too.”
“After what happened last year, we’re all hungry to get back and get what we didn’t get last year,” Deng added. “I’m really happy to be back. I’m ready for the new year to begin.”
To follow Scott Jackson's Twitter feed, go to @stjack423