Wednesday night was supposed to be the beginning of the second season for the Indian Hills basketball squad.
Instead, Wednesday was yet another day the Warriors had to deal with the fact that their season, as a whole, was over.
Sure, Wednesday could have the final day of the season anyway. Marshalltown or Southeastern or Northeast could have walked into the Hellyer Student Life Center and stunned Indian Hills in the Region XI Semifinals.
At least the Warriors could have had some control over when their season ended. Instead, the National Junior College Athletic Association took that control out of the players’ hands by slapping a postseason ban on the program for a violation stemming from school president Jim Lindenmayer posting a $1,000 bail for sophomore Ronald Ross following the postgame brawl at Southeastern on Feb. 16.
Now, just a few days after being told their season was over, the Warrior players are still trying to come to grips with the decision.
“We were looking forward to playing for a national championship. That’s all we’ve been working for the past year,” sophomore Gary Ross said. “To have that taken away like that is shocking. It’s been a tough couple of days.”
“I feel kind of empty inside,” sophomore Frank Williams added. “We thought everything was going to be all right. We know we should be playing for the national championship.”
Sophomore Ronnie Stevens, who was one of five Warriors who would play their final game on Feb. 16 at Southeastern, has been through this before. After being part of a California state championship at Serra High School in Los Angeles as a junior, Stevens saw his chance to defend the title end when the basketball team was suspended from postseason California High School athletic officials ruled that the team had used an ineligible player.
“We were expected (at Serra) to go back to state and win it all again, kind of like how everyone expected us to go back to the national tournament this year,” Stevens said. “It’s a little more difficult this time around. The first time, I was young and didn’t really understand what was going on.
“Now that I’m older, more mature and understand the sacrifices you have to make to get to this point of a season, it’s harder to go through a second time.”
Head coach Barret Peery has gone through the roughest couple of weeks in his two years at Indian Hills. Besides dealing with the physical wounds of the Feb. 16 brawl, which left the Warriors’ coach with a scar above his right eye and a concussion, Peery had to break the emotional news to his players on Monday that they would not be playing in the postseason and would not be able to chase the national title they had been working so long and so hard for.
“There’s nothing that really prepares you for something like this, but as a coach my experience has told me our guys just needed to stick together,” Peery said. “We’re going to have to continue to do that as we get through this time where we feel like we should be playing for a national championship.”
“I still feel kind of lost. The news is still shocking to me,” sophomore Dustin Hogue added. “It’s so unrealistic. It’s like I’m hoping I’m going to wake up from this bad dream.”
Hogue, Stevens, Ronald Ross, Richard Amardi and Rawane Ndiaye all had to sit and watch their teammates go out and battle in the Warriors’ last two regular-season games. IHCC lost both, falling at Moberly Area and to Marshalltown to wrap up a 26-4 regular season.
“We’re like a brotherhood and it’s tough to sit back and watch your brothers battle out there without you,” Hogue said. “We were just praying for the day that we could back out there and battle one more time together for a national title.
“As it turned out, that day never came. It’s devastating to deal with that.”
Different players are finding different ways to deal with the news after absorbing the initial shock on Monday. Sophomore Jelan Kendrick, for one, is looking to keep his Warrior teammates upbeat, especially freshmen Martin Dixon-Green, Majok Deng and Gary Williams, Jr. who will all be back next year looking to lead IHCC back into the national title hunt.
“It’s a bigger picture than me individually or any individual on this team,” Kendrick said. “It’s about Indian Hills, this town and how much they love this team.
“It’s sad we couldn’t bring home a trophy of any kind this year. Arguably, we’re one of the best teams in the country and maybe one of the best teams that ever came through Indian Hills. It’s hard to cope with.”
Perhaps no Warrior player has been hit harder with the news than Ronald Ross, who may still have to deal with ramifications from the brawl after being charged with assault after punching Billy Carroll during the brawl at Southeastern. Ross was the player who was bailed out by Lindenmayer, which led to the postseason ban.
As a team, the Warrior players or coaches have made it a point to embrace Ross whenever possible.
“We don’t see each other as much, but we try to let Ronald know whenever we can how much he means to us,” Kendrick said. “He’s a member of our family. As a family we were all a part of what happened. If this is what had to happened, then so be it.”
“I wouldn’t change a thing about the way our team and our administration have handled themselves throughout this whole situation,” Peery said. “Everyone needs to put their arms around all the guys. The community has really reached out to all of us. It’s been an amazing outpouring of love and support for us. That’s been a really neat situation.”
For seven sophomores, reflecting on the positive aspects of going 59-8 and bringing home a seventh-place finish at the national tournament will help ease some of the pain. Thinking about what might have been, however, will be much tougher for every member of the Indian Hills basketball family to deal with.
“I talked a lot about changing the culture when I first took over and now we have that culture in place. We have a foundation in place about the way we do things around here,” Peery said. “We have a group of seven guys that were here for over 60 games, had themselves ranked in the top 10 for two years and thought they were going to finish playing deep into March.
“I’m not bitter. There’s no bitterness in me, but I do feel empty. We had a great story being written for these guys, and we never got to read the final chapter.”