Jonathan Breeland Jr. dashes with his sisters, plays basketball at a local park, and lifts weights on a regular basis. Hayley Stiger runs in the rain, works on her dribbling skills, and participates in home workouts.
Both Neosho County Community College basketball players have been augmenting their skills just days after they both made the biggest decisions of their young lives to play basketball at the next level.
For Breeland Jr., a KJCCC Honorable Mention, the point guard signed to play at the University of North Alabama Wednesday, April 15 at his home base of Columbia, South Carolina, where he’s been since the end of March due to coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
Last year, Breeland Jr. was the 25th leading scorer in the nation, averaging 13.6 points, 5.7 rebounds, and 2.7 assists with 34 made 3s on the year – 39th in the nation. He was also top 15 in the conference in three-point percentage (40 percent), defensive rebounds (153), assists (54) and steals (30), and led the Panthers to the second round of the Region 6 playoffs last year.
There is a reason the 6’3” guard chose to play at North Alabama, a Division I program.
“I felt like it was the best decision,” Breeland Jr. said. “I felt wanted and I feel like I can showcase my talents there and can help.”
He noted that their style of play perfectly suits his skill set, which is fast tempo and getting up and down the court. North Alabama, in the ASUN Conference, finished with an overall standing of 13-17 last season, but won three out of their last four games.
Still, not only is Breeland Jr.’s aim to make the team better, he wants to be the best version of himself during that journey.
“I want to be the best I can be, hopefully start to get paid to play basketball,” he said.
While that goal has always been there, he knows that it is okay to lean on people who help with the process.
“I learned that some people have my back, like coach (NCCC’s Jeremy) Coombs, coach Justin (Fairman),” Breeland Jr. added. “They were there for me. And my teammates are supportive.”
Coombs showed a level of deference to a young man who sacrifices and is willing to work.
“He’s an amazing young man,” Coombs said. “I absolutely loved coaching JB. He’s the type of kid that trusted me and trusted that I wouldn’t steer him wrong. I treat my guys like they’re my own sons and JB trusted what we were about and what we were doing. But you talk about a young man that came to work every day no matter if it was in the gym, the weight room or the classroom. There is no secret to his success and it’s all about his work ethic and trust.
“You know all these kids that I have the opportunity to coach are all different in their own ways. And we preach to them to be who they are and do what they do. JB is real and he is what he is and doesn’t stray from that. So my advice to him is to continue to be who he is and continue to do what’s got him where he is today.”
Stiger continues to work hard at home to reach her goals, and that same mentality led to the former Lady Panther forward signing with Northwestern Oklahoma State University on Saturday in her hometown of Mannford, Okla.
Stiger, who averaged 10.5 points and 5.3 rebounds last season, helped lead the Lady Panthers to the second round of the playoffs for the first time since the 1996-97 season. The individual and team success led to the gritty player signing with a Division II school, and she explained why she chose Northwestern Oklahoma, a team in the Great American Conference, that went 13-15 last year.
“I like how the team is structured,” Stiger said. “Northwestern is very structured. There’s no questions asked. They have a very good culture, kind of like coach J’s (NCCC coach JJ Davis), and I was looking something similar to that.”
Davis led the Lady Panthers to some historical feats, which not only included a second-round playoff berth for the first time this millennium, but also spurred two four-game win streaks for the first time since the 2014-15 season.
Davis said he enjoyed every moment of coaching Stiger during the historical season.
“Hayley is the true meaning of the Neosho way,” Davis said. “She is a girl that came in with very little guard skills and turned herself into a great perimeter player. She was an awesome captain and a kid who could give anything for her team. My advice is to continue to serve others and be the best version of herself every day.”
Stiger said the season, players and coaches taught her a lot as well.
“I learned that everybody has a role no matter how big, and you have to stick to it,” she said. “If you want to do something more, it’s really hard for a team to adjust, especially with us five sophomores. You know everybody had a role. Coach J, his role was energy. Coach AJ (volunteer coach Anthony Johnson), his role was energy. Coach Mark (honorary associate head coach Childers) was our backboard. He was our structure, so it was just like, you just learn your role, no matter how good or how little. And you bring it.”
She can’t help but reflect on her experience.
“It was very special,” Stiger recalled. “Us five sophomores came in and we were worried because we were losing all our scoring. Except Chrissy (point guard Brown) and Jess (shooting guard Jessica Jones), (we) didn’t know how it was going to turn out. And our goal was just to do better than last year. And I definitely think we achieved our goal.”