PRCC Basketball running back perfection
Before the collective sports world came to a complete stop back in March, there were two local junior college teams that were still undefeated.
A new beginning for the Pearl River Wildcats, who check in as the nation’s fifth ranked team, fresh off their perfect 28-0 season heading into a national tournament that never happened.
Head Men’s Basketball Coach Chris Oney said, “Yesterday, we finally got the rings in. But even I’ll look to the right side of the ring and don’t see national champions, it’s still something that I guess we’ll spend the rest of our time together talking about, what could’ve been.”
There wasn’t a team in the nation that could stop last year’s Wildcats, who had just been named the number one seed in the national tournament after winning both the state and region 23 titles. Even if there was a team that could stop them, they never got the chance to find out. Shooting Guard Jariyon Wilkens said, “Accepting it was the hard part because we still couldn’t really believe it was over. We were hoping that they would still just give us a chance to go play. But when we found out we couldn’t, it was a hard pill to swallow.”
On March 16th, the NJCAA canceled all spring competition due to the coronavirus pandemic, effectively pulling the plug on the best season in school history. Point Guard Joe Cooper said, “They were winning. Everything was happy. It was good. Everybody was living their dream, and then it just got shut down. It was kind of devastating. But Coach Oney just brought us together and told us it’s going to be okay. It just is what it is.”
“This is the year that I told the guys it’s a marathon. It’s going to go to the team that’s able to stay focused through all the obstacles, and I think they understand that. And I think their approach is exactly where it needs to be at the start of the season. Especially a season that’s probably going to be like no other.”
Already more than two months behind schedule, these new-look Wildcats are ready to make up for lost time when their season tips off on Monday. They’ll be doing so without the likes of Tae Hardy, now with Southern Miss, Isiah Moore, now at St. John’s, Rod Brown, now at Tulsa, and Cameron Smith, now at Cal State Bakersfield. “I can say this, we don’t have Tae, Rod or Zae. So that means we’ve got to step up and we were here last year and new players have got to step up, whether that’s cheering your hardest or whether that’s putting the ball in the hoop or whatever your role is, just go 110 percent at that.”
Pearl River returns just three players from last year’s team including the Wilkens twins out of Biloxi High School as well as Earl Smith.
They all remember what it was like to win 75 percent of their games by double digits, but they’re going to need some help from this year’s class of seven newcomers. Shooting Guard Cameron Brown said, “My mindset was that I had to step up and I couldn’t take no slack, and I had to become one of those guys and fight for a spot, a role on the team.”
“I try – me, personally – I try not to think about that. I just try to be the best team we can possibly be and not like try to be last year’s team, just be the best team we can possibly be because that only adds more pressure.”
If being ranked fifth in the nation, the highest ranked pre-season mark in school history, is any indication, the expectations clearly haven’t gone anywhere and the Wildcats wouldn’t have it any other way. “It doesn’t change. The message doesn’t change even though the faces and the uniforms may change. But we’re still preaching the same thing, which is get two percent better every day and let’s kind of see what we can end up with.”
PRCC would have open the season tomorrow, but that game against Baton Rouge was postponed due to COVID-19. Instead, the Wildcats will tip things off at 6 p.m. Monday at East Central.