by Alan Hoskins, KCKCC
The fact that a national tournament berth was earned but then lost cannot take away from one of Kansas City Kansas Community College’s finest men’s basketball seasons.
The first ever Jayhawk Conference championship and a Plains District title will forever lock the 2019-2020 Blue Devils into KCKCC basketball lore. Off to a 2-8 start, the Blue Devils came storming down the stretch, winning 11 of their last 12 games and a national tournament berth before being shut down by the coronavirus pandemic.
“A phenomenal year,” said Brandon Burgette, the Jayhawk Coach of the Year in his very first season. “Coming back from 5-10 at the semester break and being 13-3 the second half of the year was great. It took a while to jell to a new system but the culture got better, we fell into a pattern, got better every day and the guys got a chance to see what it was like to win. In the end, it was just so disappointing to work all year for a goal that was taken away. We had accomplished so much and were peaking at just the right time going into the national tournament.”
Losing two key sophomores early to ACL injuries, the Blue Devils played the final two thirds of the season with just nine healthy players, winning nine straight games in one stretch in winning the Jayhawk with an 8-2 record and finishing 18-13 overall – all under the leadership of the team’s only two sophomores, co-captains Jalen Davis and Calvin Slaughter.
“They made the big clutch shots, the shots that solidified our year,” Burgette said.
Trailing Johnson County by 13 points with eight minutes left in the Region VI championship game, Slaughter tied the game with a 3-pointer out of the corner and Davis broke a 68-68 tie with an off-balance 3-point shot and free throw for a 4-point lead with 41.7 second left that cemented KCKCC’s 75-68 win.
Earlier, the Blue Devils trailed Highland by 14 points with less than eight minutes left only to have Slaughter beat the shot clock, banking in a go-ahead, game-winning 3-pointer in a 73-69 win that clinched KCKCC’s first Jayhawk championship.
Davis, a 6-4 guard out of Houston, was named to the All-Jayhawk first team. The team’s leading scorer and fourth in the conference (13.9), he was third in the league in 3-point percentage (.397) and ninth nationally in free throw accuracy (851). Davis scored in double figures in 18 of 31 games with six games of 24 or more including highs of 28, 29, 30 and 31.
“When Jalen was good, we were really good,” Burgette said. “Good athlete, great shooter. We counted on him a lot. He’s getting a lot of looks recruiting-wise.”
Slaughter, who had a career high 25 points in the regional final, scored in double figures in 16 of his last 18 games. The Jayhawk leader in 3-point percentage (.404), Slaughter averaged 10.8 points, 4.9 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 1.2 steals.
“A knock down shooter, Calvin guarded the other team’s best player,” Burgette said. “Hit two of the biggest shots of the season.”
Burgette will have six returnees from this year’s team including two non-players. Cody Dortch of Paragould, Arkansas, who was averaging 7.4 points when he tore his ACL, will return while 6-8 small forward Dante Carroll of Seattle with a load of potential joined the team at the start of the spring semester.
The Jayhawk Defender of the Year and second team All-Jayhawk, Robert Rhodes heads the list of returnees. A 6-7 rim protector and back line defender, Rhodes led the conference in rebounds (9.3) and blocked shots (2.2) while averaging 8.6 points and shooting 58 percent.
“He did whatever it took us to win,” Burgette said.
Deron McDaniel, a 6-0 guard from Kansas City, Missouri, earned All-Jayhawk second team honors as the leader in assists (3.3) and second in scoring (13.6) while starting only three games.
“A great addition off the bench,” Burgette said. “Our best perimeter shooter and best pure scorer. He takes and makes the tough shots”
Jermaine Yarbough, a 6-8 forward from Grandview, averaged 10.2 points and 5.3 rebounds as one of the league’s best sixth men.
“He could have started,” Burgette said. “Some nights he was our best player. He made impact plays that didn’t involve scoring. A big-time athlete; probably our best athlete.”
DeAngelo Bell, a 5-9 guard from Harmon High School, was second in assists (3.1) while averaging 7.3 points in 25 starting assignments.
“His first time actually playing at this level; he was never given a chance before,” Burgette said. “A true point guard who spent an entire year learning and improving. We look forward for him to make a big impact next season.”
Burgette has already begun to augment his 2020-2021 squad. He and assistant Brady Morningstar have commitments from a trio of high school standouts – Ezekiel Lyons, a point guard from Parsons; 6-6 Cordell Simms of Sedalia; and 6-6 Shayon Jaanloo of Putnam City, Oklahoma. Considering Burgette didn’t get his first recruit until after being hired last June, it’s a great start.