To put in perspective the considerable success Tony Romero has enjoyed as Central Christian College men’s basketball coach, last year’s 17 wins were his lowest output since taking the job.
In his six years, Central has won 115 games for just over 19 wins a season.
The Tigers were 17-14 last year and finished fourth in the now-defunct MCAC, which was one of the strongest basketball conferences in the country.
Romero returns his team nearly intact and he’s hoping some of those close games it lost last year will go the other way and push the team past the 20-win mark as it led several games with 5 minutes to go, but couldn’t seal the deal.
The Tigers open their season Wednesday night at Alexander Arena against a Friends team of the KCAC that advanced to the national tournament last year.
Game time is 7:30 p.m.
“Friends returns their top four scorers. They are a very experienced and well-coached team,” Romero said. “I think their backcourt is their strength, we are going to have to do a solid job containing those guys. It's gonna be a great early season game to see where we are.”
If the Tigers look familiar, it’s because they are. They are outrageously athletic, led by 6-7 skywalker Alonzo Stafford (16.5 points, 9.2 rebounds last year), smooth-as-silk 6-5 wing Michael Gholston (16 points, 44 percent from 3-point) and heady three-year starter Daniel Nwosuh at the point (8.2 points, 3.7 assists, 3.5 rebounds).
Sam Clayborn, a key reserve the last two years, has moved into the starting lineup and the 6-4 swingman provides instant energy as he has a motor that never stops. Rounding out the lineup is 6-7 center Kendric Warren, who sat out last year after starting two years ago when he averaged 6.2 points, 7.7 rebounds and nearly 2 blocks a game. He gives the Tigers another rim protector, as at times they could have quite a block party as Stafford also can change the direction of shots and Gholston is especially long.
Romero’s bench was outstanding last year and nothing has changed. Jerome Jackson is the backup at point, though he’s hobbled right now and may not play against Friends. Ernest Burton is a pure shooter who can light it up, while Shawn Robbins is a 6-7 banger who can spell Warren and Stafford on the inside. Brandon Glynn is a senior who has served a longtime apprenticeship in the program and is ready to contribute, while freshman Sean Guillory is the one newcomer who could crack this veteran unit. Romero likes how he shoots it from long range.
The Tigers will be enhanced at semester when Tere Adams, Matthew Murphy and Ayuk Riak become eligible. Adams was a spot starter last year and averaged 7.2 points and 4.3 rebounds and he’s a powerful inside presence despite being only 6-2 as he has a Charles Barkley-like body.
“I am very excited about this year’s group,” Romero said. “I think they are playing with great chemistry in the preseason. It's nice to have a veteran team. A lot of these guys have been in our program the last 2 or 3 years, and have tasted success and have had some disappointments. I have seen a lot of maturity from several guys and am anxious to see how it translates into competition this season.”
The Tigers, who were thrown for a scheduling loop with the disbandment of the MCAC, will play seven games this season against KCAC schools, including the annual intracity showdown Nov. 11 at McPherson College.