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College basketball: Minnesota West men to open season with talented freshmen

WORTHINGTON -- Kris Babler doesn't sound like the typical first-year head coach of a basketball team. Though in person he's as respectful and humble as you'd expect a newcomer to be, he doesn't beat around the bush when it comes to expectations. ...

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Tim Middagh/Daily Globe Freshman Minnesota West men's basketball players (left to right) Trevoris Waugh, Jayden Hampton and Kuol Chol are expected to be leaders on the 2016-17 squad.

WORTHINGTON -- Kris Babler doesn’t sound like the typical first-year head coach of a basketball team.

Though in person he’s as respectful and humble as you’d expect a newcomer to be, he doesn’t beat around the bush when it comes to expectations. You might expect a first-year coach to hold back a little bit; to be cautious, to be careful not to encourage fans to expect more than his players can give.

But when asked to assess his 2016-17 Minnesota West Community and Technical College Bluejays in a nutshell, Babler throws it right out there like a 3-point shot from the top of the key.

“If there’s a theme that goes with this, it’s the freshman class. The future is here,” he said.

He smiles, like he’s letting the cat out of the bag perhaps a bit prematurely.

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“There’s a good chance we have the best freshman class in the state,” he goes on. “They’re either going to learn to have a very good year, or they’re going to make the same mistakes and they’ll still struggle. But I’m a believer. I think they’ll get there.”

Give Babler credit for not shrinking from a challenge. He’s obviously a man unafraid to challenge his players -- and by challenging his players, he challenges himself to rise to the occasion, too, as a coach and mentor.

The new coach of the Bluejays comes with a background for success. His most recent stint as a college men’s basketball coach came in the 2014-15 season when he took over the Rainy River Community College program and led it to 17 victories -- a 14-game improvement from the previous year. He left Rainy River to serve as a U.S. Army Captain overseas. Now he’s back in the coaching ranks and obviously feeling good about the new talent he’s bringing with him to Worthington.

Fans will see a lot of freshmen on the court this year for the Bluejays.

Among them include: Kuol Chol (a guard from Ames, Iowa), Dante Cordier (guard, New Orleans, La.), Brandon Harcula (guard, Tampa, Fla.), Jayden Hampton (guard, Fayetteville, Ark.), Gbrown Ochothow (guard, Worthington), Jordan Snelling (forward, Inver Grove Heights), Darin Hesebeck (forward, Lake Park, Iowa), Kevin Carter (guard, Toledo, Ohio), Trevoris Waugh (forward, Miami, Fla.) and Nick Ahrens (forward, Yankton, S.D.).

Babler describes the 6-6 Hesebeck as an impressive off-the-bench player and solid rebounder with an impressive wingspan. Chol, a point guard, is 6-5 and the Iowa state high school record-holder in the 4 by 800-meter run. Waugh is a versatile 6-6 inside-outside forward with a good build. Hampton is “electric” according to his coach, can knock down tough shots and has his best basketball ahead of him. Cordier is a long, athletic guard at 6-3, with a scorer’s mentality.

Chol, says Babler, could develop into something special. He’s raw now but exceptionally athletic and willing to work hard. He’s aggressive and has a nose for the ball. He can shoot out to 18 feet.

The Minnesota West men graduated an All-MCAC and All-Southern Division player in Tyler Aquallo, who despite his efforts and the efforts of veteran head coach Justin Hecklaible (now retired) wasn’t able to lead the Jays to a winning record in 2015-16.

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The book is still out, obviously, on the 2016-17 Bluejays and their celebrated freshman class. But one thing is for sure: Babler enjoys beating the bushes for new talent.

“I love recruiting. It’s a blast. There’s nothing better than team-building,” he said.

He said he’s watched film on 400 to 500 high school kids. He would like to find more local recruits in the future, but the usual recruiting issues that have dogged many Minnesota West coaches before him -- housing problems -- continue to play havoc.

Even so, all appears ready as the Bluejays prepare to open the regular season tonight at 7 p.m., at home against Cedar Valley College (Texas).

Four sophomores are back at West to provide stabilization. They are Zech Adams, a guard from Minneapolis; Jeremy Joseph, a guard from North Las Vegas, Neb.; Tavon Gibbs, a guard from Inkster, Mich.; and Rolando Ramos, a guard from Bronx, N.Y.

As coach, Babler will stress ball movement, spacing, and pushing the pace. “It’s always easier for the ball to move when you’re out and running,” he said.

He’s a big believer in man-to-man defense, and he’ll defend out to the 3-point line.

Success might depend, in large measure, on shooting accuracy.

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“Really, our strength is our ability to shoot the basketball. Versatile,” Babler explained. “It’s hard to pigeonhole them into positions. There’s a lot of athleticism and speed.”

Doug Wolter joined the Worthington Globe in December of 1983 as a sports reporter. He later became sports editor, and then news editor and managing editor. In 2006 he moved to Mankato with his wife, Sandy, and served as an editor at the Mankato Free Press. In 2013 he and Sandy returned to Worthington to take up the job of sports editor at The Globe, and they have been in Worthington since.

Doug can be reached at dwolter@dglobe.com.
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