The Tyler Junior College Apaches may play in Texas, but they have Kansas on their minds.
With four key players returning, the Apaches are hopeful of obtaining one of the two berths allotted Region XIV in the NJCAA National Basketball Tournament in March in Hutchinson, Kan.
For the first time, the national tournament is taking at-large bids and the conference will have at least two teams in Hutch.
“We’re excited about our team,” said TJC coach Mike Marquis, who is entering his 12th season as Apaches coach. “We have some good players that have a chance to make their impact on our program. We’re excited about the schedule change; and excited about the fact we get more than one team at the national tournament.”
The Apaches open play tonight with the first game of the Robert Pack Classic at Wagstaff Gymnasium. TJC plays Brookhaven at 7:30 p.m. The first game has North Lake meeting Southwestern Christian at 5:30 p.m.
On Saturday, TJC meets North Lake at 4 p.m., while Brookhaven takes on Southwestern Christian at 2 p.m.
Marquis’ mention of the schedule change means the games against rivals such as Kilgore and Trinity Valley will be played later in the season when students return from Christmas break. The last few years the rivals met when school was not in session.
Four returning players include 6-6 wing Trevor Berkeley of Tucker, Ga.; 6-3 shooting guard Ta’Jon Welcome of Houston; 6-10 post Winslo Barry of Harbour Island, The Bahamas; and 6-8 forward Daniel Edozie of Compton, Calif.
“They are great kids — all really good students,” Marquis said. “They are a fun group to coach. It is time for them to step up. Last year, individually they had some good games, but not a string of them. We will lean on them heavily early on until the new guys get the idea of what junior college basketball is all about.”
The Apaches have a couple of transfers in Anthony Odunsi, a 6-4 guard from Houston; and Sharife Sargent, a 6-9 post from Bronx, N.Y.
Odunsi transferred from the University of Utah and Sargent was at West Virginia Tech. Sargent is originally from Antigua where former Apache Kurt Looby hailed.
Some others who the Apaches are expecting big things from include DeAndre Harris, a 6-3 guard from Milwaukee; Dale Jones, a 6-7 wing from Waterloo, Iowa; and John Alexander, a 6-6 wing from Toronto.
SMOKE SIGNALS: Marquis is nearing 200 wins as TJC coach. He is 197-129. … The Region XIV Tournament is March 6-10 at UT Tyler. … The Apache Ladies open their season also today, but in West Texas. They are competing in the Odessa Classic. TJC meets host Odessa at 7 p.m. today; and Howard at 2 p.m. Saturday. … The Apache Ladies’ home opener is 6 p.m. Thursday against Odessa.