OTTUMWA – It won’t be an entirely “new-look” Indian Hills basketball roster this season, but with only two players back from last year’s squad there are a dozen new faces as the Warriors get ready for the official start of preseason practice next month.
Coach Hank Plona, preparing for his fourth season at the helm, has guards Tomas Woldetensae and Devontae Lane returning from a 33-1 team that played in the program’s fifth NJCAA national tourney in a row. Woldetensae averaged 8.8 points and 3.1 assists while shooting almost 40 percent from three-point range and leading the team with a free throw percentage of .893. Lane’s scoring average was 6.3 and he made 50 percent of his field goal tries, 41.7 percent from three, and just under 79 percent of his foul shots.
“Putting together a roster at our level is not an easy thing to do,” Plona said. “There are so many unknowns that go into each season. The high-level qualifiers have many different options such as prep school or going to a Division I college as a partial qualifier. We recruited many kids this year that we didn’t get but they didn’t end up going to junior college.”
The current roster, in addition to Woldetensae and Lane, is made up of three freshmen, five players who were at other junior colleges last year, and four DI transfers.
Plona provided a brief description of each of his 14 players:
Tomas Woldetensae (6-5 guard) – “a do-it-all guard considered one of the best guards in junior college. His ability to make a jump and assert himself as one of the best players in the country is something that will be fun for Warrior fans to watch.”
Devontae Lane (6-2 guard) – “the definition of a winner, he embodies everything a college basketball player should be about and his ability to impact each and every day is remarkable. He’s a joy to coach.”
Joe Thompson (transfer from South Alabama, 6-8 forward) – “a long athletic guy that has the ability to affect the game near the basket and on the perimeter. He needs to figure out how to use his special talents to affect our team in a positive way every single day.”
Lance Singh (transfer from Mineral Area CC, 6-5 guard) – “he’s going to be a player that Warrior fans will love. He plays way above the rim, attacks the basket as well as anyone and plays with passion and energy that is tough to match.”
Billy Thomas (transfer from Moberly Area CC, 6-1 guard) – “a talented guard that can put the ball in the basket. He made five 3s against us in a game at the Hellyer Center last year and we expect him to have many more games like that this year as a Warrior.”
Iziah James (transfer from Cal Poly, 6-0 guard) – “a tough-as-nails guard who has no fear and will bring the fight to the other team every game. He is great with the ball, can make plays for himself and others, and energizes our team every day.”
Nick Wagner (transfer from Iowa Lakes CC, 6-4 guard) – “has very deep range and is a threat to make a shot as soon as he puts his uniform on. He will stretch defenses and is a worker that is in the gym every day, and will keep getting better.”
Tyon Grant-Foster (freshman, 6-7 guard) – “a player I expect Warrior fans to get to know and love very quickly, he has the ability to do everything on the floor. His ability to overcome and fight through early-season ups and downs, which every freshman goes through, will be an important factor in how our season goes.”
Josh Nicholas (transfer from St. Francis, N.Y., 6-3 guard) – “an athletic guard that is as fast as anyone I’ve coached, he is a hard-working kid that will continue to improve throughout the year as he figures out how to use his natural talent in our system.”
Tajim Smith (freshman, 6-8 forward) – “a big, strong, hard-playing frontcourt player who is not intimidated by or scared of anyone. He will be a rebounding machine and will make effort plays that will excite Warrior Nation on a daily basis.”
JD Muila (freshman, 6-8 forward) – “a skilled inside player with good size and strength, has the ability to score on the block. He knows who he is as a player and works hard every day to improve his game and add to it. He is ready to impact the college game from day 1.”
Anthony Bratton (transfer from Butler CC, 6-8 forward) – “a very talented kid who could be an X-factor for our team this year. He can move, score, rebound and use his size to his advantage. If he produces like I believe he is capable of he will help us win some games.”
Tyler Chisom (transfer from Ancilla, 6-3 guard) – “a strong guard who is exceptional with the ball in his hands and can get into the paint and make plays for himself and others. A tough kid from Chicago who is fearless.”
Torrey Patton (transfer from Akron, 6-4 guard) – “a player that does all the things that sometimes go unnoticed but help a team win games. He rebounds, passes, brings toughness and energy, and scores in different ways.”
Plona, like all college coaches, concedes that transferring has become increasingly popular. The IHCC coach adds that kids, rightfully so in his opinion, take the opportunity to make decisions each year to try to put themselves in the best position possible. “We have had many transfers in recent years, guys like Nuni Omot, Ria’n Holland, Emmitt Holt, Chris McNeal, Shane Gatling, and many others that are among the highest character kids I’ve been around. We found another group this year that will take advantage of the great opportunity here at Indian Hills. They’ll help us have a successful year on the floor, and then move on to great things in their future.”
The Warriors open the season at home Nov. 3 on the first night of the Financial Partners Classic against Independence (Kans.) CC.