Goss: Joliet Junior College rolling as usual as season winds down
By Dick Goss email@example.com February 14, 2013 11:18PM
Joliet Junior College's Ben Daniel. | Larry Kane~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: March 16, 2013 6:13AM
They were Southwest Prairie Conference rivals throughout high school. Now they’re together.
The way Nos. 1 and 2, Joliet Junior College sophomores Ben Daniel (Plainfield North) and Antwan Hill (Romeoville) pilot the Wolves’ transition game, you may think they have been operating in tandem all their lives.
“Antwan and I played against each other for four years in high school. We went at each other pretty good,” Daniel said after JJC’s 77-64 North Central Community College Conference victory Wednesday night over Milwaukee Area Tech. “But we were always cool off the court.”
Longtime observers of Wolves basketball under veteran coach Joe Kuhn say this may be among his least talented teams. But JJC (18-9, 10-1) is winning all the same. When you pair quick guards such as Daniel and Hill with the athleticism of sophomores Pierre Jolly and Edward Richardson around the basket, well, let’s just say it’s not yet time to hold tag days for the Wolves.
“Ed was a big difference for us when he became eligible for the second semester,” Daniel said of Richardson. “Pierre has been good around the basket all year. I love playing with them.”
“Pierre and Ed are our go-to guys,” Wolves assistant coach Keith Kinzler said. “Pierre is an athlete like nobody else. He’s a freak of nature.”
His shoes must be at least 50 percent trampoline, the way he elevates to slam alley-oop lobs.
The Wolves conclude their home season Saturday night against Wright and travel to Rock Valley and DuPage next week before entering the Region IV Tournament. Who knows?
Under Kuhn, JJC won the NJCAA Division III national championship in 2010, finished as the national runner-up in 2005 and ’08 and has been to the national tournament six times. His 16-year record is 363-161.
I missed seeing him Wednesday. He also did not coach in Monday’s 104-77 loss at hot-shooting Triton. Athletic director Wayne King said the reason is personal issues. Kuhn is expected back for Saturday’s game.
“I’ve been doing this with Joe for so long, we both do our thing and it works,” said Kinzler, the acting coach this week and Kuhn’s top assistant from the beginning. “I’m happy the guys played hard for me and we won (Wednesday). I didn’t want to give Joe two losses for his coaching record.”
When you consider JJC is in Division III, which does not give athletic scholarships, Kuhn’s record is remarkable.
“It’s a whole different breed when you’re recruiting on this level,” King said. “For Joe to build a program the way he has shows what he is made of.
“During his 16 years with me I always knew he was doing things the right way. This year’s team was struggling a bit early, then they won 10 of 11. At the end of the year, his teams are always in the mix.”
Stay tuned for that Region IV Tournament.
On the prep front
When teams meet late in the regular season and then again in the regional, anything goes. Although you never want to play poorly or lose any game, some think it almost becomes a psychological advantage to have had a subpar night in the regular-season outing.
Which brings us to Tuesday’s Joliet Catholic at Providence game. The Celtics held on 56-50 and were expected to win. But with the rematch looming Feb. 26 in the opening round of the Class 3A Lincoln-Way West Regional, Providence coach Tim Trendel noted the pregame plan was to not give the Hilltoppers a confidence boost.
“Instead, we gave them a world of confidence,” he said.
Joliet Catholic coach Joe Gura’s take was similar.
“(Tuesday) was so important to us and it wasn’t to them,” he said. “They are a really good team, and we came in here and competed.
“No doubt Providence will be ready for us next time. But we walk out of this gym knowing we can compete in this regional.”
Gura had two freshman starters, guards Jalen Jackson and Harold Davis, and used freshman forward Drake Fellows off the bench.
“This was Drake’s second time in a varsity game,” Gura said. “I never had three freshmen on the floor for a varsity game before.”
The young Hilltoppers (4-23) have not won often, but their steady improvement is a credit to Gura’s ability to build a program and a credit to senior captain Ryan Peter, the team’s leader in scoring and just about everything else.
“ ‘Pete’ has an unenviable task, the senior leader with all these freshmen, and has done a tremendous job,” Gura said.