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NMMI looks to be competitive after losing eight players

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2017 NMMI basketball team photo. (NMMI Sports Press Photo)

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The Bronco basketball team sent eight members of last year’s squad on to four-year schools, an accomplishment of which head coach Ralph Davis is extremely proud. But while that’s a major achievement, it also meant NMMI only brought back one player from last year’s squad.

“We lost a lot of guys to four-year schools last year, so much so that we only returned one young man, Davis Steeleman, who was a double-figure scorer for us last year,” coach Davis said.

But because of solid recruiting by Institute assistant coaches Richard Grant and Ronnie Williford, Jr., NMMI comes into the season ranked fifth in the WJCAC with a solid contingent of very strong players.

“Overall, it’s exciting,” Davis said. “We intend to keep the same defensive pressure and defensive toughness that we’ve had for years. We’ve just added more offensive firepower. So we’re hoping that mix can get us back to the regional tournament.”

As the lone returner, Steelman will bring both leadership and skills on the floor. As a freshman starter, he shot 90 percent from the free throw line and 40 percent from outside. Add in his academics — he’s a 4.0 student and Academic All American — and Davis is just happy to see him on the court.

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“It’s just great having him back,” he said. “And to be honest, he had opportunities last year to leave as well. To go to a four-year school, but he thought he had some unfinished business and wanted to come back here and finish. We’re happy with him. Definitely he’s a familiar face for everybody and we’re very excited that he decided to come back and join us this year. He has leadership that can’t be explained.”

But Steelman isn’t the only sophomore on the squad, as the Broncos picked up players from both JCs and four-year schools.

Davis called 6-6 Trevelin Queen from Baltimore, Md. a “special talent.”

The guard played for Marin Junior College in California last season and has already signed to attend Western Kentucky University next year after being recruited by schools across the country.

“He chose Western Kentucky for the fit, but he could have had his choice of any school in the country,” David said. “He’s the best player to come through these doors in some time. A talented player who can score in so many different ways. He’s athletic. He’s going to be doing a lot for us.”

Atem Bior is already somewhat familiar with New Mexico. Although he’s a native of Brisbane, Australia, the forward spent last season at Highland University in Las Vegas, N.M.

And although his size — he’s 6-7 and 22o pounds — says otherwise, Davis said he can move on the court.

“He’s got some great ball skills. Can rebound. Can defend. Can dribble. He can shoot it. He’s tough. He’s another talented player and is going to make an impact for us and have an opportunity when he’s done to go on to a higher level.”

Rosel Hurley comes to NMMI from D1 Kent State University in Ohio, where he didn’t see much time on the floor, but got to see what’s it’s like to play at that level. Davis said he’ll be a big brother and mentor to the freshmen on the squad.

“He’s that wise old cagey guy, to quite be honest,” the coach said. “He has a lot of veteran to him. Very even keel. Doesn’t get too high. Doesn’t get too low. He really kind just of keeps everybody on an even playing field. He’s very talented.”

Three more players round out the sophomores squad.

Matt Brown is a 6-2, “extremely athletic guard,” who also spent time at a California junior college.

“He plays above the rim and is one of the better defenders,” the coach said. “He’s a guy who works extremely hard at it and we’re expecting some strong minutes from him.”

Six-foot Clark Cooper comes from the University of Texas, Rio Grande Valley, and David said there’s one big thing he brings to the team.

“Speed. Speedy kid. Fastest kid we’ve had here since a kid named DeMarnier Cunningham.

He has great straight-line speed. Obviously, he’s been at the Division I level prior, so he’s got a wealth of experience and he’s competitive. He’s going to be able to change paces for us and do some great things.”

Will Charmant comes from Orlando, Fla., and the 6-6 forward played on the same JC as former Bronco Taylor Breck.

He’s still wrapping up transfer paperwork, so won’t play until the second semester, but coach calls him “a unique guy. He’s versatile. Can do some things on the court.”

Davis is also pleased with the freshman newcomers, singling out Jordan Owens, Kaleb Morton, Jaylen Williams and Jeremie Karngbaye, who’s from just up the road.

“We’ve got a pretty strong freshman class with some New Mexico flavor with Jeremie, who’s familiar with this gym having played for Portales.”

A two-sport player (basketball and football) for the Rams, the 6-6 Karngbaye knows what it’s like to play in Cahoon Armory. Davis said he’s physically bigger than a freshman and while he still is learning, “He’s been a pleasant surprise. He works extremely hard at it. His physicality just allows him to step on immediately and help out on the defensive side. He’s another one who shows some promise.”

Owens, a 6-0 guard from New Jersey, is another bigger-than-average freshman.

“He’s built the right way. He looks like a sophomore in size,” Davis said. “He’s quick, and can change directions. Gets down the floor. We’re pretty excited about him. He’s one of the freshmen we’re really excited about.”

Morton, a 6-5 guard from Brooklyn, brings one special talent to the floor.

“He’s a sharpshooter. Absolute sharpshooter,” Davis said. “Has the ability to reel off three or four 3s in a row. Tremendous sharpshooter. We expect him to give us that scoring punch we talked about and stretch the defense out and give us a little more of that offensive side.”

Williams is another shooter. The 6-6, 250-pounder from Oklahoma City can play both inside and outside, the coach said.

“He can knock down some shots. He’s capable, just like Morton, of reeling off two or three 3s at a time and just kind of going from there.”

The remainder of the squad includes K’von Rice, a 6-0 point guard from San Antonio, Texas; Devin Pate, a 6-4 forward from Port Aransas, Texas; Jamaal Coleman, a 6-9 center from Ganado, Ariz.; and Omar Parchman, a 6-8 center from Wynne, Ark.

Davis called Rice a “one-man defensive wrecking crew. Probably our biggest surprise, actually. We weren’t sure what we were getting but now it’s going to be difficult for us to keep him off the court.”

Pate was another huge surprise. The academy prep walk-on just showed up one day “and it was evident we could use him,” Davis said. “Very, very athletic. Plays hard. This is a kid you had no idea you needed until he showed up.”

On a team that doesn’t have a lot of height, Coleman is the team’s big man. Coming off the Navajo reservation, he was the first early signee for the Broncos, meaning he’s been waiting to play for almost a year. And while Davis said his days look brighter next year, he’s still excited to see what he can do this season.

“A very, very high upside kid,” he said. “Still young. Still has to figure a few things out as far as the speed of the game. He’ll give you effort.”

Parchman, who rounds out the squad, drew coach Williford’s attention in Little Rock.

“Omar is another athletic, super springy freshman. He’s active. He plays hard,” Davis said. “He’s a talented young man. We’re pretty excited about his possibilities.”

Overall, the Broncos sound like they’re a well-rounded team.

“Definitely everyone who’s seen us play knows our defensive intensity,” Davis said. “We play full court. We’re reactive. We’re very physical, too. So that leads to more turnovers, more fast-break opportunities, and we think our defense is going to lead the offense. But with that being said, we do have some good shooting.”

NMMI starts action at home Wednesday against perennial foe Northern New Mexico University junior varsity, then, unlike last year which saw them play most of the pre-conference season on the road, they’ll have four more home games before they open conference vs. Clarendon Nov. 29.

Davis hopes the crowds will fill the gym from the first tipoff.

“I expect energy. This is an opportunity for the student body, the faculty and staff, and the Roswell community to come out and watch us play,” he said. “Hopefully it’s an opportunity for us to open the gates to momentum. Keep building for our conference.”

And, as has been the case seemingly forever, the Broncos play in one of the toughest conferences in the country. In the preseason poll, South Plains is ranked No. 3 nationally and Odessa No. 7. In the conference, NMMI is picked to finish fifth, behind those two, Howard and Western Texas.

But Davis is hoping his squad can break into the top four and earn a trip to the regional tournament.

“We feel we’re prepared to compete this year,” he said. “Last year we put ourselves in a great position going down the stretch – that did not work out for us – but just like anybody could tell you in this league or any other league, it’s one of the best conferences.”

And he knows the Institute has come a long way from where it began.

“A few years ago, the thought was New Mexico Military Institute would be the doormat. That’s two games for you checked off. Whereas now, you know that it’ll be a dogfight and hopefully in their minds they’ll be lucky to come out of here or even in their own house with a win. So it feels good to be at that point, yet we still have a few more steps to take before we’re where we want to be.”

With that goal in mind, and Cahoon Armory scheduled to be remodeled after this season, David hopes fans from both NMMI and Roswell will pack the facility.

“We have a lot of early home games in November. We’d love to see some fans out. Love to see the community come out,” he said. “I know this is a basketball crazed community here and I think this year we’ll put out a team that will make everybody proud and happy to enjoy. Come one, come all. Let’s give (Cahoon) a great sendoff.”