OTTUMWA — Eight months and six days have passed since Indian Hills basketball fans last saw the team the love out on the floor for action at the Hellyer Student Life Center.
Nobody knew it would be the last time last season the Warriors would ever hit the hardwood together.
The first home loss in two years under head coach Barret Peery was tough to stomach, but not because of the end result on the scoreboard. It was the end result of a ruling made on that very same day by the NJCAA banning a national championship contender from participating in the postseason.
Roderick Bobbit played with many of the sophomores that saw their last chance to claim a national championship at Indian Hills taken away by an unfortunate ruling. Even though he wasn’t part of last year’s squad, Bobbit felt the hurt all the same.
“I knew so many of those guys having played with them two years ago. I felt their pain and I felt it wasn’t right what happened to them,” Bobbit said.
Bobbit knows what it means for Warrior fans to make the March trip to Hutchinson, Kansas. Two years ago, the freshman guard was a major part of IHCC’s seventh-place showing at the 2012 NJCAA Division I National Basketball Tournament.
After one year away from the program, the sophomore is ready to give the ‘Warrior Nation’ something it felt it should have had last year. Indian Hills returns to the floor to begin a brand new season tonight, back in the Hellyer Center against Lincoln for the Jack Blackwell Classic, with lofty expectations of being on the national championship stage for the fourth time in program history by March 2014.
“Everyone on this team knows how last season ended,” Bobbit said. “Things happen, but the one thing we want to do is come back and get this program that national championship we should have won last year.”
For Peery, who begins his third season as Warrior head coach tonight, he wouldn’t have it any other way but to have expectations at their highest level.
“That’s why you come to a program like Indian Hills. You want to compete for the national championship every year,” Peery said. “We’re excited to get out there and keep making our product better every night.”
The cyclical nature of junior college basketball can make that national championship dream slightly tougher every other year. Peery’s first season at IHCC brought the Warriors to the national tournament, but an opening game loss to a more experience Monroe squad ended the quest for the program’s fourth national title early on.
Last year seemed like the year that Indian Hills would certainly contend for the first national title since 1999. Eight eventual Division I recruits and a total of seven returning players from the previous year’s national tournament team guided IHCC to a 26-2 record, including a season sweep of regional rival and eventual national tourney top seed Iowa Western.
Win number 26 would prove to be the most exhilarating, yet costly, victory of the entire season. After making an incredible comeback to win in double overtime at Southeastern, a postgame brawl led to suspension of several Warrior players and the arrest of Ronald Ross for assault.
Due to IHCC president Jim Lindenmeyer bailing out Ross, the Warriors student athlete, out of jail to get him home safely, the NJCAA banned Indian Hills from postseason play. Over eight months later, however, the bitterness of that ruling has turned into added motivation for Peery and his staff.
“It was a long summer for everyone wanting to get back on the floor, wanting to get going again and wanting to get our product back on the court,” Peery said. “This is our home and this is what we do. We wanted to get back to the business of putting a great team together that would represent everyone involved with the program well.”
What Peery and staff constructed through the offseason was a team that, despite losing 10 sophomores and having only one player back from the previous year, is a team with plenty of experience. Along with Bobbit and returning player Majok Deng, the Warriors have eight sophomores that transferred into Indian Hills with six coming to Ottumwa after playing at Division I two and four-year programs last year.
Ball State transfer Quevyn Winters and Duquesne transfer Marcus Posley are joined by Qiydar Davis and Dawud Salaam, both of whom came to IHCC after a year at Pensacola Junior College. Former Arizona Western guard Lester Medford and Central Florida CC wingman Roosevelt Scott gives the Warriors top tier talent with at least one year of experience playing at a top tier level of college basketball.
“With us only bringing back Majok, we needed to go out and find talent and guys with very high character,” Peery said. “I think we have a group that can handle themselves in tough situations and group that knows what it means to be a part of this program at Indian Hills.”
“I think myself and the coaches are more excited than the fans are to get back out,” Deng added. “It takes a lot of effort. I try to show the guys what it takes and what we need to do, but it helps to have so many guys that already know a lot about what it takes to play winning basketball at this level.”
Versatility appears to be the name of the game this season for the Warriors, who have seven wing players listed on the roster. That gives IHCC a host of talents that can spread out to shoot from the perimeter or join any of the four post presences for the Warriors in crashing the glass to produce plenty of points in the paint.
One thing’s for sure when it comes to a Peery-coached team. Expect plenty of up-tempo excitement each time the Warriors hit the floor.
“We don’t anything different,” Peery said. “We want to score a lot of points, we want to rebound a ton and we want to get after it defensively. You’ll see a few new faces and few new numbers, but the style remains the same for us.”
Tonight’s game with Lincoln is the first of back-to-back nights at the Hellyer Center with Mesa Community College providing IHCC with a stiff second-game test on Saturday night at 7. The Blackwell Classic will be the tipoff of what will be 21 home games and an overall regular season scheduled that feature fellow national tournament hopeful Southern Idaho, Chipola and of course the daunting task of making it through regional rivals Iowa Western and Southeastern among others.
“We have a lot of quality games this year, including a lot right here at home,” Peery said. “It’s going to make for an exciting year.”
Adding to the excitement for Warriors is the preseason number one ranking by The Sporting News and No. 2 preseason rating by the NJCAA. It appears everyone in the country expects IHCC to be battling for the national championship this year.
Count the Warrior players themselves among that group.
“I just tell the guys every day that it’s going to be a long season, but we just have to keep working together and fighting together,” Bobbit said. “If we do that, we’ll be at Hutch in no time.”
“Everyone knows what it’s going to take,” Deng said. “We want to make it to Hutch. No doubt about it.”
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