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CSC men’s basketball team opening season with high hopes


Marcus Jefferson, Chadron State’s primary ball handler and the assist leader last season, is among the returnees who will hopefully lead the Eagles to their best season in a couple of decades this winter.  Jefferson is being guarded by Troy Brady of Regis in the photo that was taken last January.

With the mainstays at the end of last season returning and joined by an array of promising newcomers that Coach Shane Paben landed, hopes are high that the Chadron State College men’s basketball team will be solid this season—the best in a long time.

The Eagles will open their season this weekend by hosting Texas A&M International based at Laredo on Friday night and Texas A&M-Kingsville on Saturday night in the Chicoine Center. Both games will tip off at 7 o’clock.

The contests are part of the “conference challenge” pitting RMAC teams against those from the Lone Star Conference. Nearly all the men’s and women’s teams from both conferences are involved. The CSC women will be played at Kingsville on Friday afternoon and at Laredo on Saturday afternoon.

The challenges began in 2017-18 and continued the next two seasons, but were interrupted by the coronavirus last year. The CSC men have won one of the previous six games against the same two teams they will meet this weekend, defeating International in Chadron in 2018.

It’s anticipated that the CSC men will have a major “challenge” against Kingsville. Division I Texas A&M edged the Javalinas by only 76-72 at College Station last Monday night.

Regardless of how the Eagles fare in their opening games, Paben is confident they will be greatly improved this season. He says the team has more talent, height and depth than it had last year when it finished with a 5-8 record during the COVID shortened season. He’s hoping they’ll challenge for RMAC superiority.

Paben has emphasized he did not accept the job at Chadron State in the summer of 2020 to have a mediocre program. The Eagles’ highlight last year was qualifying for the RMAC playoffs for the first time in nearly a decade, but the coach said there’s much more to be accomplished.

The five returnees from a year ago include guard Teddy Parham, who led the team in scoring at 14.8 points a game while shooting 40.7 percent (37-91) from 3-point range. The other backcourt veterans are point guard Marcus Jefferson, who led the team in assists with 52 and averaged 10.2 points, along with KJ Harris, who chipped in 2.9 points a game.

Another veteran is senior swingman Brady Delimont of Ainsworth, who holds Nebraska’s high school record for most career 3-pointers, and has continued to display long range capabilities during his three years with the Eagles, knocking down 93 treys while shooting 38 percent from afar.

Also back from last year is 6-4 Bryant Jefferson, who filled in at the post most of last season after the team’s leading scorer, Jacob Jefferson (no relation), had his career ended by a nasty knee injury in game seven. Bryant Jefferson isn’t expected to light up the scoreboard, but he’s solid at both ends of the court and is expected to be a big contributor again.

Now for the newcomers. Paben said at the end of last year he “needed some more horses.” He worked hard and enters the season confident that he found some.”

One those expected to give the team a major boost is not exactly new. CJ Jennings was among Paben’s leading recruits a year ago when he transferred from Saint Martin’s University in Washington state after averaging 15.7 points. Paben believes his average would have been similar at CSC, but he had to wait a year to take the court. Jennings practiced with the Eagles a year ago and has been cleared to play. The coach calls him “very talented.”

With Jennings available, Paben thinks his backcourt will be a superb one. There’s also another transfer, one that Chadron fans are familiar with, in the picture. He’s Mason Heimstra, the Panhandle’s leading scorer at 22.4 points a game and also the assist leader with 109 as a senior at Alliance High in 2018-19.

Heimstra spent the last two years at Hasting College and led the Broncos in scoring last winter at 15.7 points a game. It was Heimstra’s idea to switch to the Eagles, and Paben calls him “a good addition.” He can score, handle the ball and has the quickness to play solid defense.

The 2021-22 roster also has added two 6-foot-7 transfers who are expected to play key roles immediately. They are Porter Anderson, who averaged 9.8 points and shot 65.8 percent from the field last winter for Otero Junior College’s 15-5 team a year ago, and Taj Toney, who started at Bluefield State, a Division II team in West Virginia last season. Bluefield played just eight game a year ago, but Toney scored in double figures in six of them.

Four true freshmen also are on the Eagles’ roster. Paben says they’re excellent prospects but he isn’t ready to disclose which ones may redshirt and which ones will earn playing time in 2021-22.

They are Beau Bragg, who’s 6-7 and averaged 16.1 points and 10.4 rebounds at Crandall High in Texas last year; Tejuan Hale, a 6-4 graduate of Oakland Tech in California, where he was the conferences Most Valuable Player and averaged 18 points and 8 rebounds; Val Leone, who’s 6-3 and scored 1,276 points during his career at Fowler High in Colorado; and Caden Sclafani, who’s also 6-3 and averaged 10 points for The Colony High team in Texas that won 24 games last season.

The roster includes two more intriguing players who won’t suit up this weekend because of health problems but could make a big impact. They are Joniya Gadson and Olgierd Dmochewicz, both just a shade under seven-feet tall.

Gadson was a starter on back-to-back Class 7A state championship teams in Florida, saw some action during his two years at Bowling Green State University in Ohio, but suffered a concussion in an auto accident that sidelined him in 2019-20. His condition has improved and there’s no timetable on when he may become available, but the sooner the better.

Paben says Gadson is worth waiting for, noting that the second half of the season is when things really count.

Dmochewicz, a native of Poland and dubbed “the Big O” by his teammates, is only 20 and is a freshman. He has a back ailment and could be forced to redshirt, but he appears to have a bright future if he can overcome the problem. Seven-footers don’t come along often in Division II.

When asked how he has been able to land so many promising players, Paben said he “just keeps beating the bushes,” working almost non-stop trying to round up players who will make the Eagles competitive, maybe a national tournament contender. It’s been 20 years since Chadron State men’s basketball has won more games than it lost.

After this weekend’s twin-bill with the Texas teams, the Eagles will play at Nebraska-Kearney on Nov. 16 and the University of Sioux Falls on Nov. 19 before hosting Haskell Indian Nations University from Lawrence, Kan., on Nov. 21.

During Thanksgiving, the Chadron State team will travel to Puerto Rico to play three games against teams from that island nation. The trip is another indication of how Paben is working to put some spunk in the basketball program.

Upon their return, the Eagles will open their RMAC schedule by hosting Fort Lewis and Western Colorado on Dec. 3 and 4. They’ll also be at home Dec. 17 and 18 to play Colorado-Colorado Springs and New Mexico Highlands.

The RMAC coaches’ preseason poll placed the Eagles 12th among the 15 teams. That’s certainly not where Paben intends for them to finish.

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