The process continues for the Dodge City Conquistadors men’s basketball team, which heads to Garden City, Kansas today to take on the Garden City Broncbusters tonight.
The men’s game is scheduled for 4 p.m. The women’s team plays earlier in the day, at 2 p.m.
For the men’s team, it’ll be an opportunity for the team to bounce back after a tough loss Wednesday night. The team fell in overtime to Colby by a score of 84-79.
They may be 7-15 overall, but for head coach Steve Tucker, this season has been more than about just wins and losses, it’s been about rebuilding the culture of the program, a process that started when Tucker was hired, but only allowed him 2 1/2 weeks of recruit before the season started.
He knew what he was getting into, but that didn’t change that the program was known as “renegade” within the community.
The culture has turned around, Tucker said.
“We’ve got things going in the right direction,” Tucker said. “Our fans have been great, our administration has been great, everybody who supports this program’s been great because they’ve been extremely patient with us, and I’m very appreciative of that.”
Even this season’s end and the team’s final record, whatever it may become, will not be the ideal time to judge the results of the program’s new approach under Tucker, who is in his first year at the helm.
“Where I want this program to be judged or looked at is where we are next February this time, because I think that we have a very special recruiting-class that we’re gonna bring in her next year,” Tucker said. “We have been working extremely-hard all season on recruiting. We’re way ahead on the recruiting-side. We feel that we’re gonna bring in a very dominant class that is gonna be the kind of class that we’re gonna recruit every year here.”
This year’s team, however, will always get a lot of credit from Tucker.
“They’ve really set the stage for the future: With their attitude, with their work ethic, with the way they are as people, with the way the treat people, with the way they represent the entire program,” Tucker said. “They will always be held in extreme, high esteem here because of what they have worked to help me build in a very difficult situation.”
When the team becomes successful, and they will he said, that success will be attributed to this first group of players that entered the program and “fought the battles.”
When Tucker got to the program, it just had Dayton McGroarty, from Dodge City, one of the team’s five sophomores. He’s been one of the players who has stepped up of late.
“Dayton’s been playing unbelievably the last two weeks,” Tucker said.
As they get ready to take on Garden City, they’ll rely on players like sophomore Bruce Hodges and Tamaje Blackwell, each of whom helped muscle the Conqs almost complete a comeback when they last played Garden City back in November 2017. Dodge City lost that game 66-44.
The Conquistadors will also rely on freshman center Jyrus Freels, whose 55.3 field-goal percentage is the fifth-best shooting percentage in the conference.
“Jyrus has been just a joy to coach,” Tucker said. “He works really hard.”
At 6 feet, 7 inches tall and 260 pounds, Freels is the team’s heaviest player, as well as their second-tallest.
“The thing people don’t understand about Jyrus (is) he’s lost about 35 pounds since he came here,” Tucker said. “Jyrus is really becoming a basketball player. His development has been really one of the highlights of this year. He’s not only an outstanding shooter, he’s an outstanding rebounder.”
Like any player, he has aspects of his game to work on, in his case defense, but he has potential.
“Jyrus has a chance to be one of the best big-men to every player here,” Tucker said. “I think he’s really setting the stage for a great-sophomore year, and he’s gonna get a little help up front next year which I think will even make him bigger.”
He already has some though, in the only player taller than him on the court in a Conqs uniform: Freshman center Kevin Howard.
“Kevin is turning into one of the really elite players in this conference up front,” Tucker said. “I think along with Jyrus and Kevin you’ve got bookend forwards that can really lead us to a lot of wins next year, and to a great finish this year.”
Like freshman guard Justice Dixon, who also is having a very strong year, Howard and Freels have great attitudes, Tucker said.
The Conquistadors will need strong efforts from all when they take on Garden City tonight.
Women’s team looks to continue winning-streak
On the women’s side, the Conquistadors are coming off a dominate 83-53 win over Colby Wednesday night.
They take on the Broncbusters women’s team at 2 p.m. today.
Garden City is currently ranked 7th in the conference standings at 13-9 (10-8). They’ve won back-to-back games and three of their last four.
“I feel they’re playing well and they present a lot of challenges to us,” Conquistador head women’s basketball coach Zach Loll said. “They’re very athletic, they do a lot of scoring off the dribble which is gonna be tough for us because I don’t know if we can contain their penetration well enough and keep the ball in front of us.”
That’s one thing Loll said worries him.
Dodge City, meanwhile, currently sits at 10th in the conference at 9-12 (6-12), but the Conqs have won their last four, but in the last meeting with the Broncbusters fell 66-57, in part due to 14-28 shooting from the free-throw line. Freshman forward Makaela Ewing had a team-high 16 points for Dodge City in the loss.
That game, however, happened in November 2017. Since then, both teams have made some changes, including Garden City, which is now running a 1-3-1 zone defense that has been working for them.
“That’s a defense that if you’re able to score against it when they show it, teams will get out of it, but if you turn it over, you don’t attack it successfully, it’s gonna be a feeding-frenzy for ‘em,” Loll said. “It’s like blood in the water with sharks, so they’re just gonna keep coming after you, so you’ve gotta be prepared and take care of the ball against a defense like that.”
Dodge City is averaging 41.7 rebounds-per-game, while Garden City is averaging 36.5 per game.
“We’re gonna have to do a good job rebounding the ball, and it’s just not our bigs but our guards are gonna have to take care of rebounding too and not letting a guard sneak in and get an offensive-rebound or a put-back against us,” Loll said.
The Conquistadors women’s team takes on the Broncbusters at 2 p.m. today.