Breeland Jr. assesses the defense for the proper kind of pass.

Jonathan Breeland Jr. as a freshman is selected as a 2020 All-KJCCC Honorable Mention.

NCCC’s best two men’s basketball players have been rewarded for all of their season’s efficient dribble drives and pivot moves to the rim.

Freshman guard Jonathan Breeland Jr. and sophomore forward Jae-Min Yang were chosen at the end of last month as two Kansas Jayhawk Community College Conference Honorable Mention players. This is Yang’s first nod as an Honorable Mention, which helped extend a streak of at least two All-Conference players for the 13 years that Jeremy Coombs has been the head coach of NCCC.

Coombs said he was very proud of his two best players.

“Both kids had very good seasons this year. They did some really good things for the program and they did some good things for themselves, as well. Both are being recruited already by Division I schools; the people at the next level were able to see what they are capable of doing,” Coombs said. “But both of them did a fantastic job and are deserving all their awards that they got.”

Breeland Jr. was the 25th leading scorer in the conference, averaging 13.6 points, 5.7 rebounds, 2.7 assists with 34 made 3s on the year, which is good for 39th in the nation. Breeland Jr. was also top 15 in the conference in three-point percentage (40 percent), defensive rebounds (153), assists (54) and steals (30).

The Columbia, South Carolina, native was the tempo guy for the Panthers, looking for the best overall play while aggressively slashing his way en route to the rim. But if the defense was sagging in too much, he wouldn’t hesitate to spot up for an open 3.

Yang this past year was the 36th leading scorer in the nation at 12 points per contest all the while putting up 6.6 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game. The 6’7” versatile player was top 15 in the conference in defensive rebounds (94), total rebounds (135) and rebounds per game (6.4).

The Seoul, South Korea, native was a Swiss-army-knife player. Focused on keeping the tempo at optimal speed no matter what the situation presented, Yang operated from the perimeter to either take a few dribbles and reverse pivot for an easy one, or stay on the perimeter if rotations were much too late only to hoist and stick a 3. On the block, the lengthy player used his core strength to leverage himself for a basket on either side of the defender.

Yang said he was very grateful for the conference nod.

“It was such an honor to be selected,” Yang said. “I did my best for two years at Neosho, also I worked really hard to survive every day. Without my teammates and coach Coombs, I couldn’t make it. So I really want to say thank you to the people who supported me.”

Coombs’ support of his players and his kind of perceptive coaching led to a Region 6 second-round birth – the second year in a row NCCC has been to at least the second round of the playoffs. In a first-round match-up versus Pratt Community College, Yang put up 20 points on 8-of-15 shooting and six rebounds, while Breeland Jr. posted 11 points on just 1-of-3 shooting and six rebounds en route to a 104-90 win. Chanute native Corbett Kimberlin, though, led the way with 39 points on 9-of-10 3s that day.

It is these kinds of moments that Coombs has been preparing Breeland Jr. and Yang for, including during practice, in the weight room and during games throughout the regular season – essentials for spirited, consistent play in the playoffs.

“Both those two kids are hard workers. I think at the end of the day, those two kids are extremely deserving of the honors they’ve gotten, accolades and things they’ve gotten, and there’s a reason why they’re getting recruited to the next level,” Coombs said. “On the court, you are going to get 100 percent with that every day in practice, game, weight room and preseason workouts. They bring that energy and work ethic to the table. I think that speaks loudly to why they are so successful. Hard work does pay off.”

Things were certainly difficult at first for the Panthers, and elevated play towards the end of the season – NCCC won two out of their last three games before their loss to Butler to end the year, including a one-point loss to Allen Community on Feb. 22 at home – was the result of hard work paying off.

In a highly-touted conference that usually produces Division I basketball players who often transfer to top-notch schools across the nation, the Panthers finished the season with a 12-20 record, NCCC’s second-worst record in seven seasons.

But the competition is relatively still the same, and Coombs coached up players clearly capable of holding their own among some of the best players in the nation. That’s the reason why colleges have expressed their interest in both Breeland Jr. and Yang.

Aside from putting up glaring statistics, Breeland Jr. can use his sharp handle, quickness and core strength to score from anywhere on the court, while Yang has exhibited his diversified skill set in myriad situations to score and rebound the ball.

“I say this all the time, and I know because I coached this conference, this is one of the deepest conferences in the country and definitely the toughest conference in the country,” Coombs continued. “Night in and night out, you have to be ready to play. And these kids are battle-tested. And so they’ve gone up against high-level athletes and so they understand what it takes to get it done at the next level, and that’s with all of our guys that have gone on and been successful. Sometimes you see these kids from other conferences in other regions that are scoring 30 points a game, but it doesn’t correlate over to the next level. And that’s because night in and night out, they’re not facing the type of conference that you get in the Jayhawk Conference. So I think people know that if they get a kid out of this conference from Neosho’s program, that they’re battle-tested night in and night out and they’ll be ready to go at the next level.”

Those next-level Division I colleges are knocking on the door for both Breeland Jr. and Yang. While Yang will make his decision on where he will go in the coming weeks, Breeland Jr., a freshman, will have to figure out if the D-I colleges recruiting him are the best choices for him, or if he would benefit from another year at NCCC.

For Yang, several mid-major to low-major schools have been in the mix from the start of this year, while some have recently jumped into the discussion. Breeland Jr. has several mid-major schools rubbernecking his talents, including some that have just entered his radar on Thursday.

Making matters a little more complicated, in-person recruiting has been suspended due to the developments of COVID-19, but once the situation plateaus, even more schools will be on the table for the NCCC players. And it will only be a matter of time before both student-athletes make decisions on their basketball futures.

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