SHERIDAN — Sheridan College took part in National Signing Day festivities Wednesday as a pair of Generals committed to continue their basketball careers at the NCAA Division I level. Leading-scorer Channel Banks will play at the University of Akron, while fellow starter Ladan Ricketts — a Livingston native — heads close to home to compete for Montana State.
SC head men’s basketball coach Matt Hammer has shown the capacity over his four years as head man to send his student-athletes to the next level. Currently, seven former Generals play Division I college basketball in various places around the country. Whether it’s Celio Araujo suiting up in the far Northeast at the University of Maine or PJ Savoy advancing to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament with Florida State, former Generals have found success after their Sheridan College days.
Recruiting at the National Junior College Athletic Association level comes with its fair share of challenges. Coaches know that prospective junior college players will only hold a spot on their team for a maximum of two years — three years if a redshirt year is involved; however, Sheridan didn’t have any players on its 14-man roster that redshirted this past season.
If a high schooler qualifies for a four-year college but still decides to go the junior college route, he or she can leave after just one season. It’s those non-qualifiers out of high school that must stay at least two years and attain a 2.5 GPA or higher to eventually qualify for the four-year level.
Hammer, who has now experienced numerous recruiting cycles, has found a method to best sustain winning ways within his junior college program.
“You have to start over every year, and you have to build from the ground up and keep it as simple as possible on the basketball floor,” Hammer said. “Also, off the floor, the student-athlete at this level is different in different ways than the four-year level when it comes to academics, as well.”
The majority of student-athletes at the JUCO level have aspirations of the next step — a four-year college. Student-athletes already within the Division I ranks embody different goals. Those players have already reached the highest level of college basketball and can more easily focus on academic goals and basketball goals that revolve around conference championships and the professional landscape.
That is precisely what University of Wyoming head coach Allen Edwards preaches to his prospective student-athletes.
“We sell the three Bs. We sell books; we sell basketball; and we sell getting better,” Edwards said. “… We are always talking about putting ourselves in a position to compete for championships.”
So how does a JUCO coach win at a consistent rate with players that most likely have individual goals of playing at a four-year school like Wyoming?
“That’s the toughest battle in every guy you bring in,” Hammer said. “Their ultimate goal is to go Division I and play at the highest level possible. We always tell our guys, ‘We know you didn’t grow up with a Sheridan College poster on your wall, but you’re here now, and you have to take advantage of the opportunity you have. You have to put in the effort; you have to have the right attitude.’ We want guys to understand that and understand that this may not be what you dreamt about, but you have a great chance here to be around a lot of special people — people that want to help you and get you to where you want to go.”
Banks understood that coming in and utilized Sheridan to the best of his ability. Not only did Banks earn the GPA necessary in his two years in Sheridan to continue playing basketball at the four-year level, but he also put in the time on the court to become an honorable mention All-American this past season while leading the Generals to a Region IX North championship.
“I live in the moment,” Banks said. “(JUCO) was something I had to get off first before I did get to the four-year. Being here, my main focus was trying to win a JUCO national championship and not really trying to focus on the four-year.
“Setting goals of being an All-American and winning Player of the Year is what got me to where I’m at today.”
Banks’ mindset is one Hammer aims for in recruiting. He wants a talented basketball player who is motivated to get to that next level and put forth a great effort to win games for the Generals.
While it has proven difficult at times, Hammer has built a successful program at the junior college level despite unique recruiting strategies and consistent roster changes.