Marty Levinson is building what he hopes will be a junior college powerhouse at Central Community College.
He’ll find out Tuesday night if he’s following the right blueprint.
The Raiders host Iowa Western (7-0 and ranked No. 8 in Division I) at 7 p.m. at Raider Fieldhouse in Columbus, Neb., one of several challenging opponents Levinson has scheduled to prepare his team for another run at the postseason in Division II. Last season, Central beat defending champion Mott Community College of Flint, Mich., to reach the Elite Eight.
“In my eyes, we will see where we are on Tuesday,” Levinson said. “I think it’s going to be a war.”
No. 14 Central is 5-1 and starting to mold into what Levinson said is the deepest and most together squad he’s had in his three-year tenure. On a roster heavy with players from Omaha, six players are averaging in double figures for a team averaging 87 points a game.
“We’re finally starting to play together, trusting each other and making the right passes the defense gives you and not caring who gets the shot,” Levinson said.
Maybe part of it is the Omaha connection.
There’s Riak Bol, an Omaha Benson graduate many gave up on after he suffered a compound fracture of the shin the summer before his senior year. The 6-foot-10 post is averaging 13.0 points on 45-percent shooting from the floor. He also records 7.7 rebounds and 3.7 blocks.
“I knew he could dribble, pass and shoot,” Levinson said. “He’s 6-foot-10 and functional like that even if he never got completely healthy, (but now) he’s got that athleticism and more back.”
Tyron Criswell, a 6-4 small forward also out of Benson, is averaging 15.6 points and 7.4 rebounds, while 6-2 wing Tra-Deon Hollins (Omaha Central) is at 16.5 points, six rebounds, six assists and 5.2 steals. His cousin, Deandre Hollins-Johnson (Omaha Central), averages 6.0 points and 3.7 assists.
Other double-figure scorers are John Ruffin (13.0 points, 7.5 rebounds), Calvin Thomas (14.8 points, 1.8 steals) and point guard David Plain (10.2 points, 3.5 assists). All three are from Chicago.
Phone calls from interested four-year schools are piling up as fast as the points.
Bol has offers from Hawaii, Old Dominion, Missouri-Kansas City, Florida A&M and UC Riverside. Other interested schools are UNO, Washington State, Eastern Carolina, Bradley, Chicago State, Middle Tennessee, North Dakota State, Miami (Ohio) and North Dakota.
Criswell has an offer from North Dakota and interest from North Dakota State, UNO, UMKC, Northern Colorado, Old Dominion, Chicago State and Appalachian State.
Abou Diop, a 6-8 post player from Columbus, Ohio, also has interest from Florida A&M, North Texas and UNO.
Hollins is a freshman but performances like the one last week against Quakerdale Promise Academy Prep in Iowa are attracting attention. He had 20 points, 12 rebounds, 11 assists and seven steals in the 86-80 win.
He also typically guards the other team’s best player. He had 18 deflections against Iowa Central.
“I think he’s one of the best high school defenders ever to come out of the state in Nebraska,” Levinson said.
With that much firepower, Levinson said making everyone happy is one of the biggest challenges he faces. He knows he has the talent and commitment from his players, now he has to keep building togetherness.
“It’s hard,” Levinson said, “But they have to understand what they are doing is for the betterment of the team.”
An 89-82 loss to Cloud County (Kan.) on Nov. 5 helped bring that lesson home. That’s when he could see the players starting to understand the individual sacrifices needed to play on the same level as the Division I national powers on Central’s schedule like Iowa Western, No. 2 Indian Hills (Iowa) and No. 4 Hutchinson (Kan.) and regional power North Platte, another Nebraska school loaded with Omaha players.
Some top players at Nebraska’s junior colleges
Central Community College’s Marty Levinson isn’t the only junior college coach busy with recruiting calls. Here are some other local players getting looked at by four-year schools:
» Tony Dobbinson, Stamford, Conn., 5-11 point guard: Interest from Robert Morris, Troy, Pacific, Portland State
» LaMont Pruitt, Indianapolis, 6-2 guard: Interest from Utah State
» Spencer Kucera, Oxford, Neb., 6-10 post: Interest from Mercer
North Platte (7-0)
» Ethan Montalvo, Omaha Bryan, 6-0 guard: Offers from Wright State, Southeastern Louisiana, UC-Riverside, UNO, Texas State, Arkansas State. Interest from Drake
» Tre’Vaun Hymer, Omaha Burke, 6-8 forward: Offer from Montana State. Interest from North Dakota, UNO, Albany, Hofstra
Northeast (Norfolk) (4-2)
» Khapri Alston, Chicago, 6-5 post: Interest from Portland State, Montana State, UC Riverside, Mercer
» Rasheed Fairley, Boys Town, 6-7 post: Interest from South Carolina State, Sam Houston State
» Jabbar Washington, Michigan City, Ind., 6-1 point guard: Interest from North Dakota
» Kyle Kilgore, Adrian, Minn., 6-7 forward: Interest from Northwest Missouri State and Missouri Western
Southeast (Beatrice) (7-1)
» Jarrod Gamble, Australia, 6-9: Interest from IUPUI
» Josh Roberts, Miramar, Fla., 5-10 point guard: Interest from Troy
» Tyrell Corlew, Louisville, Ky., 6-3 wing: IUPUI, Interest from South Dakota State