John Ritzdorf figured his connections with in-state basketball players would be an asset whenever he took over his own program.
Ritzdorf got that chance last June when Central Community College made him its men’s coach at age 29. Now behind three players from the Omaha area, the Raiders are enjoying a reversal of fortunes.
“As the year’s gone on, we’ve gotten better in the areas we needed to get better at,” said Ritzdorf, who spent two years as UNO’s director of basketball operations and was an assistant at Ralston and UNK before landing the Central job. “We weren’t the best defensive team in the first semester, but coming back from the break, we’ve done a much better job on that end of the floor.
“We’ve had some guys really improve since the beginning of the year.”
Ritzdorf’s Raiders are coming off a 3-0 week as they improved to 16-10 with three regular-season games left. They next host Northeast CC on Wednesday.
Central returned just three players from last year’s 10-17 squad. One of them, Tre’Vion Crawford, considered transferring before Ritzdorf was hired. Now the Omaha Bryan graduate is averaging 20.4 points per game while shooting 41.9% from 3-point range.
“He’s done a great job of scoring in different ways,” Ritzdorf said. “I don’t know if I expected 20 points a game, but he’s done his job.”
Ritzdorf also brought in Gretna freshman guard Tre Mikkelsen, who averages 10.8 points in a starting role, and former Omaha Central standout Roman Behrens.
With nearly a 3-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio, Behrens is third in NJCAA Division II in assists at 8.8 per game and also averages 15.2 points and 4.8 rebounds. He’s had six double-doubles and three triple-doubles.
“He’s one of those guys who wants to find the hot hand. He throws a lot of passes I don’t see from the bench, but somehow they get through,” Ritzdorf said.
“Our best attribute is we share the ball. We have a team that doesn’t really care who’s getting points as long as we’re getting a good shot.”
Ritzdorf’s other two starters are from Australia, but the rest of the roster is mainly players from Nebraska. He said bringing in standouts from Nebraska will be essential to the program in the future.
None of Central’s sophomores have yet signed with four-year colleges, but Ritzdorf said all are drawing interest.
In other Midlands notes:
» Another showdown between the GPAC’s best women’s basketball teams, NAIA No. 2 Hastings and No. 3 Concordia, takes place Wednesday in Seward. Hastings won 66-59 on Jan. 8 when Concordia was top-ranked. Hastings’ Shandra Farmer was last week’s NAIA national player of the week, while Concordia senior center Philly Lammers passed 1,900 points for her career over the weekend. Lammers is second in school history in points (1,905) and third in rebounds (977).
» Speaking of players with 1,900 points, Nate Schimonitz became the fourth player in Nebraska Wesleyan history to surpass that milestone and needs 12 more to pass Trey Bardsley on Wesleyan’s all-time scoring list. Schimonitz reached 1,906 Saturday when Wesleyan clinched its fourth straight regular-season conference title — the Prairie Wolves went 19 of 34 from the 3-point line that night.
» Bellevue’s Jemeil King was named the North Star conference player of the week for the fourth time this season after he averaged 18 points, eight rebounds and seven assists in two wins. Those victories moved the Bruins into sole possession of first place in the league standings. Bellevue’s last four regular-season games are at home, beginning on Friday.
» The 22-2 UNK women won their 10th straight, marking the program’s longest win streak in 11 years. The Lopers are one game out of first in the MIAA and play at league leader Central Missouri on Saturday.
The Nebraska 100: Our greatest athletes
The Nebraska 100, originally selected in 2005 and then updated and re-ranked in 2015, came from a pool of nearly 500 names from the ranks of high school, college, amateur and professional sports from the past 140 years. Assistance came from a panel of veteran sports observers from across the state, with the newspaper's sports staff determining the final rankings.