Last season was another very successful campaign for the Community College of Rhode Island men’s basketball team.
Rick Harris’ team finished the season at 20-9 and produced a 10-game winning streak before falling to Niagara Falls in the District Tournament, preventing the Knights from getting to the NJCAA D-II National Tournament.
With that loss, the Knights also graduated two scholarship earning players, All-American Edvaldo Ferreira to Mercyhurst University and Adrian LaFleur to New Mexico Highlands University, as well as Elijah Vazquez to Lasell College and Grant Gillis to Rhode Island College.
What does that mean? It means Harris now has a roster of 12 freshman and just three sophomores.
“That’s what the junior college does,” according to Harris, who is now in his 12th year at the helm for the Knights. “Our job is to help the student-athletes improve on the court and receive the exposure needed to be recruited by four-year schools. CCRI helps our guys mature academically and as athletes, earning the appropriate number of transferable credits, and even better, an Associate Degree.”
In the meantime, Harris and his staff, which includes Josh Perry, Tony Moreira and Andy Jackson, are working tirelessly to prepare all the newcomers for what they will see at the highly-competitive junior college basketball level.
“Our young guys are facing men for the first time,” Harris said. “Every team has very good players, and we have to teach our guys to bring a great effort to the court each day. I like to say to them, ‘we are all on one-day contracts.’”
As always, CCRI plays a highly-competitive schedule, one of the most challenging in the Northeast.
“Former Athletic Director Lou Pullano taught me it is not your record that counts, but how you are playing at the end of the year when the playoffs roll around,” Harris said. “You want to be in a position to win big postseason games, so you have a shot at getting to the D-II National Tournament in Danville, Illinois, where hundreds of recruiters come to see the games, looking to offer scholarships to the next future D-I or D-II stars.”
That is why the young Knights have already squared off with prep powers like Woodstock Academy and Notre Dame Prep, as well as D-I junior colleges Monroe College and ASA. This competition will quickly get them ready for their normal D-II, New England and Northeast competition.
The cast of newcomers includes: David Cabeceiras (Pilgrim High School), Cole and Drew Ferguson (Coventry High School), Dan Grzych (La Salle Academy), Kyle Murphy (Bishop Hendricken High School) and former RIIL All-Staters Jarron Santos (East Providence High School) and Peter Wilson (Saint Raphael Academy). Joining this Rhode Island group is Justin Gadry (Taunton, Massachusetts), Oscar Iteji (Nigeria), Jimmy Matos (Norwich, Connecticut), Jovahn Thomas (Wareham, Massachusetts) and Joshua Williams (Atlanta, Georgia).
Returning sophomores include: Justin Williams (Hartford, Connecticut) and co-captains Chris Garcia (Brooklyn, New York) and Igor Almeida (Cape Verde).
“We are young, but that is not an excuse to not improve daily or compete hard in all practices and games,” Harris said. “I expect us to outwork our opponent and play team basketball. I enjoy this challenge of molding these young men into a cohesive unit and watching their development physically and mentally. I have never coached a team that did not improve going into the home stretch. I truly believe the best is yet to come with this team. It is going to be up and down for a while, but I firmly believe they will be playing their best basketball in February and then March.”