CEDAR RAPIDS — For the friends, family and fans of the Kirkwood men’s basketball team, Tuesday was a day of celebration.
Ten days after winning the third NJCAA Division-II national championship in program history, the Eagles gathered at Johnson Hall to show off their championship hardware.
“It’s really special,” sixth-year Kirkwood Coach Bryan Petersen said. “We had a good group of kids to work with all year. They kept on staying together and growing together. To be able to finish out on a high note was really special for us.”
Kirkwood finished the season with a 31-4 record, which matched the mark for the 2016 team that also won a national title under Petersen. Before Petersen, the only other crown in program history was won in 1998.
“It feels great, but at the same time the expectations were set pretty high before I even got the opportunity,” said Petersen, a former player at both Kirkwood and Iowa State. “To be able to just continue it on and maintain it and then add a little bit here and there is very rewarding, but at the same time that is what we want to do. The program culture was built before I got here and I am just trying to maintain it.”
Petersen will have to maintain it going forward without All-American sophomore Doug Wilson, who will play at South Dakota State next season under new coach Eric Henderson. Wilson followed up his Iowa Community College Athletic Conference Player of the Year and regional tournament Most Valuable Player awards by being named MVP of the national tournament, as well.
“It was extremely satisfying,” said Wilson, who totaled 92 points and 38 rebounds in the four-game national tournament. “I am going to miss this place so much. I wish it was a four-year (school), but it felt really good to come out on top and just to do it with my guys.”
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While the Eagles do have to replace the immense production of Wilson, plus starting guards Connor Kasperbauer and Allante Pickens, today’s freshmen become tomorrow’s leaders.
Forwards Luke Appel (9.7 points, 6.5 rebounds per game) and Seybian Sims (4.9, 5.9), plus guard Devonte Thedford (10.6 points, 2.9 rebounds, 2.2 assists) all started a bunch of games, with Sims and Thedford starting every game of the regional and national tournaments.
Freshman guard Jamal Stephenson (6.7 points per game) was a solid contributor off the bench all season and figures to get even more opportunities next year.
“I think we learned a lot from these sophomores,” said Sims, who helped Iowa City West win a high school state title in 2017. “It is definitely in us freshmen to become leaders and hopefully get to where we are right now.”
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