HUTCHINSON, Kan. — It was his birthday, but Andy Palmer gave his SLCC teammates a nice present on Friday night.
Despite giving up about 4 inches in height to his man — not counting Palmer's kind of poofy hairdo — the 6-foot-5 power forward from Pine View High scored a dozen points and grabbed a team-high six rebounds in the Bruins' 68-50 NJCAA semifinal victory over Three Rivers Community College.
The starter's scoring spurt early on really gave SLCC a lift and some unexpected offense in the paint against Baylor-bound 6-9 Artem Valov.
Palmer scored eight points in the first five minutes helping turn a 4-2 Three Rivers lead into a 13-6 SLCC advantage. A couple of his shots opened up when the Pirates closed in on a driving Vassy Banny, who alertly found Palmer alone underneath. He also battled for a putback bucket and then made a strong drive and ensuing free throw to put SLCC up 51-40 midway through the second half.
Palmer, a sophomore who's leaning toward going to Dixie State next season, said he has been used to being undersized at the position. It's happened in almost every game.
"It's not a big shock," he said.
Palmer, who served an LDS mission after playing for the St. George high school, laughed about turning 23 Friday.
"I'm freaking old," he said.
The Bruins celebrated his birthday earlier in the day. His mom even made him a cake.
"I blew out the candles, and I just told them, 'You guys know what I'm wishing for,'" he said.
Not to jinx it, but Palmer's wish is like the rest of the Bruins. He said the fifth-place banner hanging in the Bruins' gym from SLCC's last visit to the NJCAA tourney in 1994 needs "some company." Like, say, a 2007-08 national championship banner.
"That's what we're here to do," Palmer said. "We've had that goal since the first of the season to be national champs."
They'll get their shot tonight at 7 against South Plains College.
GOING GREEN: He might be just 5-11, but SLCC shooting guard Brian Green has had a big tournament. Heading into tonight's championship, the Davis High product is in the running for multiple awards: MVP, the all-tournament team and the outstanding small-player award.
Depending on what he does tonight, he could even get them all.
Green scored 19 points Friday — right on his tournament average — and hit five 3-pointers. The shooting guard also somehow managed to grab five rebounds in another intense, energetic outing.
The sophomore, who is a fan favorite at the Sports Arena because of his shooting and hustle, hit seven of his final 11 shots after missing his first four.
Palmer said he could talk about his teammate "all day."
"Brian Green, he's the best shooter in the nation," he said. "I trust him shooting the ball and I know our team trusts him shooting the ball more than anybody else on the team."
SLCC coach Norm Parrish chimed in on the claim.
"He's only the second-best shooter in our gym," he said. "I can outshoot him."
COACHING PIPELINE: SLCC's Parrish, Indian Hills' Jeff Kidder and Seward County's Bryan Zollinger all made the NJCAA quarterfinals. But for years, their teams battled each other in the Scenic West Athletic Conference.
Parrish has been with the Bruins for 17 seasons, Zollinger was at the College of Eastern Utah for 10 years before heading to Liberal, Kan., to coach the Saints in 2007. Kidder was with Dixie State before it began the transition toward NCAA Division II status, coaching eight years in St. George and guiding the Rebels to the 2002 national championship.
South Plains (Texas) College beat Zollinger's Saints 77-65 in the late semifinal Friday night to earn a spot in the finals.