TAYLORSVILLE — Their differences are striking.
Raised in South Sudan and Richfield, Utah, products of Houston, Texas and San Bernadino, California, and shaped by hometowns of Las Vegas and Spanish Fork, the Salt Lake Community College men’s basketball team has an eclectic mix that might seem more likely to clash then seamlessly mesh.
“Our differences bring us together,” said Kearns graduate and native of South Sudan Kur Kuath. “I feel like it’s a definite advantage. If you had a team of people who are all the same, it wouldn’t be a good team because it would be…”
He pauses, and his teammate Alec Monson, a graduate of Olympus High, finishes the thought for him: “Boring.”
“We’ve got a bunch of good guys on the team,” said Monson, a sophomore, who transferred to the junior college after playing his freshman season at Portland State. “Even though we are really different, we all love to laugh. We just have fun. Obviously, we love playing basketball together, and we play for each other.” And it is that commitment to one and other, as well as their coaches, that drives them as they prepare to play for the NJCAA District 1 Championship Saturday at the Taylorsville campus, when they host Arizona Western College at 7:30 p.m. at the Lifetime Activities Center.
If they win, they head to the national tournament. If they lose, they have to wait for an at-large invitation. What's at stake is seeding. If they win, they're likely a top 10 seed and that means only four games to the National Title contest. If they lose, it could be lower, and that would mean an extra game that could test their stamina.
The players said they're motivated to win for many reasons, but first and foremost, so they can continue competing together.
“I’m just trying to play more basketball with these guys,” said Kuath, with a laugh.
When asked if last year’s loss matters at all in their mental preparation, Monson shrugs.
“I feel no obligation for last year’s team not making it,” he said. “We’re competing to win now. We’re competing for Coach and we play for each other.”
Head coach Todd Phillips said the team is an unusual mix, but the program strives for diversity every season because it usually makes for great chemistry.
“We joke that we’ve got two kids who drive to school in their Mercedes, and two kids who don’t even have their drivers licenses.”
The key to their success this season, which includes winning their region tournament last week, is their affection for each other.
“I think they just care for one and other,” he said. “Every year, we strive for that mix and we're trying to mold these guys together. Some groups come together, and some groups are like …oil and water.”
The team boasts a 29-3 record, and they’re on a four-game win streak right now with a 13-1 record at home. The team has four players who average double digits – Bushmen Ebet (Kearns), who averages 14.5 points; Christian Gray (California), 13.2 points; Kur Kuath (Kearns), who averages 10.9 points, and Josh Colon (Puerto Rico/Virginia), who averages 10.2 points.
Kuath, who just signed with Oklahoma, also averages 7.3 rebounds per game. He’s also earned 115 blocks this season.
Phillips, who guided the Bruins to a national title at the NJCAA tournament two years ago said this team is unique on and off the court.
“This team is really athletic and long,” Phillips said. “Sometimes you know you have a team with more athleticism, and then sometimes really athletic and long, but doesn’t make the right plays or they’re not very smart, or disciplined, but we have a really nice mix. It’s been a good balance.”