Sunday, January 14, 2007

College of Southern Idaho

The all time record of the College of Southern Idaho is 1129-210 - a winning percentage of .847. It is the winningest junior college basketball program in the country. The program was first coached by legendary Eddie Sutton who went on to hold head coaching positions at both Kentucky and Oklahoma State. He is the only coach to lead four different schools to the NCAA tournament. As Sutton tells the story, when he arrived at CSI the school didn't even exist and the President told him that his job was "to make a school." His first games were played at a local high school. Boyd "Tiny" Grant who later coached at Colorado State and Fresno State followed Sutton and Fred Trenkle who later coached at San Diego State followed Grant. The current coach is Barrett Peery who clearly appreciates what has been built and what he has at CSI after stints at Southern Utah, Utah Valley and Portland State as an assistant coach.

CSI has won two national championships, but it has been 20 years since Fred Trenkle lead the 1987 squad to a 38-1 record and their last national championship. Expectations are high at CSI. On Saturday, January 14, 2007 they host Salt Lake Community College. The previous night, SLCC pulled off a shocking one point victory to drop CSI's record to 15-2.

"When I think of the word "snakepit," the image of the claustrophic, hostility-steeped field house where Clemson University played their basketball games comes to mind." Pat Conroy.

If Conroy had played junior college basketball he would have envisioned the College of Southern Idaho Fieldhouse instead of Clemson's field house. The ends of the arena at CSI are plastered with booster signs from around the Twin Falls community, any business would be hard pressed to find a place to put another sign. The lower section of the arena has a wait list for season tickets and all seats are chairback. The booster club has raised over one hundred thousand dollars this year alone and the prime banner locations correspond to the largest donors. CSI even has their own practice facility - a complete rarity at the midmajor level much less the junior college level. The arena seating is steep - like climbing the steep portion of a mountain. The fans in the upper reaches of the fieldhouse cannot even see some parts of the court. Their view is blocked by asbestos laden beems that support the ceiling. The lower level has fans that are sitting almost on top of the court. From 1984 to 1992 CSI won 137 consecutive games - the longest home court winning streak in junior college basketball history.

CSI is clearly one of the premiere junior college basketball programs in the country.

CSI's roster is dotted by players from across the country: Portland, Oregon; New York, N.Y.; Reno, Nevada; Youngstown, Ohio; Minneapolis, Minnesota; Waterbury, Connecticutt; Headland, Alabama; Biloxi, Mississippi; Las Vegas, Nevada; and St. George, Utah; and beyond - Dakar, Senegal; Minsk, Belarus. Players are usually placed at the CSI by division I head coaches who need the player to become eligible. Initially, the typical CSI player does not meet the NCAA's core requirements and is therefor ineligible until completely two years of junior college. This year's squad features a 6'11" center from Minsk, Belarus who would clearly play for any division I school that he wanted. CSI landed him with the help of Binghamton University from all the way in New York, which is hoping to sign him after he becomes eligible.

Going into the weekend, CSI was ranked 6th in the latest NJCAA rankings. Friday nights' upset loss will surely lower their rating, but CSI needs Saturdays' game to avoid a disastrous weekend.
CSI utilizes 12 players during the course of the game (15 suit up). They press full court all game, looking to take advantage of their depth and quickness. The challenge every dribble and every pass. The strategy usually works as CSI's depth can usually wear down an opponent. The disadvantage is that opponents usually reach the bonus quickly. That is the case during both the first half and second half against SLCC as SLCC is in the bonus only six minutes into the game. They utilize their free throw advantage to stay in the game and at the half trail by only two points.

Looking at the teams, any novice basketball fan can see CSI has an athletic and height advantage. They clearly have better players, but SLCC is able to utilize the made free throws to stay in the game longer than anyone in Twin Falls would like. Midway through the second half, though, CSI is able to go on a couple of runs created by their press and SLCC turnovers. The runs put them up by as much as 16 points and they cruise down the stretch to a 98-91 victory. Their record improves to 16-2 with the rematch weekend to follow in Salt Lake on February 16th and 17th.

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