New faces, same early success for Kirkwood men's basketball

New faces, same early success for Kirkwood men's basketball

(Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

Nov. 22, 2018 - The Gazette - Douglas Miles

CEDAR RAPIDS — In junior-college basketball, significant roster turnover is a yearly expectation.

Unless they redshirt, players have two seasons to make an impact and hopefully earn a scholarship at a four-year institution. Junior-college coaches are tasked with the continual construction of a cohesive unit despite a bit of a revolving door of players.

For sixth-year Kirkwood Coach Bryan Petersen, it starts with the recruiting process.

"We're hoping to obviously not only bring in new players that are talented, but kids that we feel like that will really buy into our culture," Petersen said. "I feel like the quicker that the kids we bring in here buy into what we do and how hard we work and how we handle ourselves as teammates, the quicker that we're going to get better and get ready to play these games. Hopefully the recruiting piece helps us out with that."

Of the 17 players on the Kirkwood roster, just two — injured center Kyle Arrington and power forward Doug Wilson — saw significant action last season. That being said, Wilson provides a fantastic foundation for any squad. The 6-foot-7, 210-pound South Dakota State signee was a second-team NJCAA Division II All-American selection last season when he averaged 14.1 points and a team-high 6.6 rebounds per contest for an Eagles team that won 24 games and reached the regional semifinals.

"I feel like this year's team could be really good because we have a lot of guys that have a lot of different roles," Wilson said. "As an overall team, everybody has got the same goal and it doesn't really matter what their role is, everybody is willing to get better."

Through seven games, Wilson leads Kirkwood (6-1) with 20.1 points and 10.1 rebounds. Redshirt freshman Connor Kasperbauer — a Truman State transfer — has converted 50 percent of his 48 3-point attempts and is second on the team with 14.6 points per game.

"My teammates and coaches do a great job with getting me the ball," said Kasperbauer, who has signed to return to Truman State following a coaching change. "I trust my teammates and I know that they trust me. I've been working in the gym a lot in the offseason, working on my game, so it's not really surprising to me that I've been playing the way that I have been playing. It's just that I have been playing with a lot of confidence and playing with this group is really, really fun so that helps as well."

The Eagles are also receiving early contributions from Missouri S&T transfer Allante Pickens, a sophomore point guard who is averaging 13.4 points and a team-high 3.3 assists per game. Former Iowa City West prep Seybian Sims is one of two freshmen starting forwards (along with Luke Appel) for Kirkwood.

Following the holiday break, Kirkwood returns to action with a road game at Marshalltown on Nov. 28. Even with four new starters, the roster talent, coaching acumen and track record of the program helped net the Eagles a No. 5 ranking in the preseason poll.

"It's never easy," said Petersen, who coached the Eagles to a national championship in 2016. "But I do think if you've got the right guys and you've got some good leadership and you've got some high-character kids that is part of your leadership and is consistent, then I think that really helps with the process of getting the new guys ready to go. … I think we've got that with this group."

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