The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic hasn’t stopped the Neosho County Community College Panthers from preparing for next basketball season in the event that there is a regular scheduled campaign.
NCCC head basketball coach Jeremy Coombs has signed, sealed and delivered seven players from around the country and Southeast Kansas the last two weeks. The players have signed from their homes due to COVID-19, after virtually touring the college.
Olathe West’s Cougar Downing (6’1”) was the first of those signings. Downing, the son of all-time leading NCCC scorer Par Downing (1,441 points from 1989-91) and the brother of National Tournament NCCC player Tyson Downing, was 6A first-team All-State, second-team All-Class, Sunflower League Player of the Year, a Sunflower League first-teamer and led his team to a 15-6 record last season. Averaging 19.6 points, 3.2 assists and 3.6 rebounds last year for the Owls, Downing is a combo point guard who can bring the ball up the court, make plays for his teammates, and score.
Downing has been augmenting his basketball skills and working out at a friend’s house, and said he wants to display his skill set within the Panthers’ framework.
“I just want to make the team better after what they already have done,” Downing said.
Deondre Buggage (5’9”) out of H.L. Bourgeois High School in Gray, Louisiana, also signed with NCCC. Buggage is a Class 5A first-team player dubbed by the Louisiana Sports Writers Association, a district MVP, led his high school team to a 28-8 record, and scored 48 points in a Class 5A first-round win. Averaging 26 points on 40.6 percent three-point shooting, 4.8 assists and 4.9 rebounds, the swift Buggage can slash aggressively to the hoop, make some acrobatic passes for his teammates and plays spirited defense.
Staying out on the perimeter is Malik Carson (6’7”), a lengthy wing player from Baltimore’s Rock Creek Christian Academy who averaged 12.3 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 2.2 steals a game, and led his team to a 28-7 record. Carson is also a solid defender.
Davonte Ross (6’6”) is another future Panther and is from Plaquemine, Louisiana. Putting up 11 points and 8.3 rebounds as a senior last year, Ross will use his brute force to rebound, block shots and dunk the ball. Ross can also get to the rim and finish around the basket. Coombs said he is a Dennis Rodman-like player in the way he commits to rebounding and plays defense.
Another new NCCC signee is Myron Washington (6’9”), a Dodge City transfer player. Primarily a post-up player, Washington last year averaged 5.4 points, 4.8 rebounds in 14.6 minutes a game of work, and swatted 54 total blocks while helping the team to an 11-20 record. Washington is from Monroe, Louisiana’s Ouachita Parish High School, where he averaged 15.5 points and 8.6 rebounds.
Keeping the trend of inside-outside basketball, Coombs was able to sign Parsons’ Dariq Williams (5’10”), one of the more exciting guards in all of Kansas. Tallying 14 points, nine assists and five rebounds a game, Williams was first-team All-State, an All-SEK player, and was a leading hand for much of the year in Parsons’ 23-1 record. But in the first round of the sub-state playoffs versus Topeka Hayden last year, he tore his ACL. While the surgery was successful, his rehab and treatment may lead to redshirting his first year at NCCC. And though he is widely expected to play for NCCC for a year, a Division I program will likely pick him up after that.
Williams, who has been in physical therapy working to regain strength in his quads, said he appreciates the opportunity at NCCC.
“It’s very cool signing with NCCC,” Williams said. “As a kid, I’d always be there for traveling ball. Seeing all the tall college students always made me think about if I was in that position.”
Coombs has also signed his son, Tye Coombs (5’11”), out of Chanute High School. He was a starting guard for the Blue Comets this past year, racking up 9.6 points and 2.4 assists per game. Coombs is a solid playmaker who can get hot on the perimeter and can slash to the rim and score. He can also make plays for his teammates.
The coach said he can’t wait to have his son on the team next year.
“Obviously, having an opportunity to coach your son is going to be fun and a new experience for me,” Coombs said. “Letting him be with me, experiencing the road trips, and all those things are going to be great. And obviously, we adopted him two years ago, so we didn’t have a ton of time with him. And just to give me two more years of having him around me all the time is an added bonus. You wish we could have found Tye when he was young, and a young kid in grade school, and it just so happened to work out that we found him when he was a sophomore in high school. This is going to be fun and a great experience.”
Coombs said he intends on signing two more players this week. The new and returning players will be a combination that could help spur more victories and assist in differentiating next year’s team from those in the past – NCCC last season went 12-20 and lost in the second round of the Region 6 playoffs.
“It’s all about getting these guys to buy in and to play as a team and different things like that,” Coombs noted. “Honestly, my most talented team probably wasn’t the National Tournament team, but that was the team that gelled the best together. They play for each other. We had a bunch of guys that averaged 12 or 13 points, versus having one or two guys that score 20 points a game. The team after the National Tournament team was probably the most talented team I ever had, but we did not win games because we did not play together. It was all about me, me, me. Where am I going? What do I have to do so I can get to the next level? And so what we have to do is find more things to do with these guys just to get them around each other, whether it’s game night at the house or going and doing something together to try and get these kids to bond a little bit closer.”