After four games, Central Christian College’s men’s basketball team had to be wondering what in the world was going on.
The Tigers entered the year with a stocked roster of talented four- and three-year players, including seniors Michael Gholston, Daniel Nwosuh and Sam Clayborn — staples in the program since the day they set foot in Alexander Arena as freshmen.
The Tigers, though, started 1-3, all the losses coming to KCAC schools. But the one win — against highly regarded Friends — was a signal they had what it took to play with elite teams.
Finally, it started to click. And that clicking sound you hear is the Tigers rattling off win after win.
Nine of ‘em, in fact, in the month of January, with nary a loss.
Central has won 16 of 18 games since that middling start to move to 17-5. The only two losses came in a Las Vegas tournament over the Christmas holidays against ranked teams. The Tigers figured to have their streak greatly challenged when they traveled last week to New Mexico for a pair of games, but they survived and will try to put together as solid of February as was their January.
Central has climbed to No. 6 in the NCCAA national rankings as with dual membership it’ll be in line for two chances to make a national tournament. Last year after missing out on the NAIA Tournament, it did move on the NCCAA Tournament.
The Tigers have seven games left. The two that really matter are home-and-home matchups with former MCAC arch-rival College of the Ozarks, which has had many headknockers in the past with the Tigers. Central should be a solid favorite in the other five games, so it’s building a head of steam.
Tony Romero is in his eighth year as CCC coach and his teams have been remarkably consistent. One of the all-time greats in Central history as a player, Romero has led his alma mater to just under 20 wins a season and in the process has played an exciting brand of basketball.
What I like most about Romero’s teams is that he gets players as freshmen and then coaches them up and builds tremendous relationships. You can see how tight-knit the Tigers are when you watch them play.
Gholston, Nwosuh and Clayborn are prime examples as Gholston is now the school’s all-time leading scorer, Nwosuh its career assist leader and Clayborn plays with a passion and desire that few possess as he’s the ultimate energizer bunny.
When Romero does add a transfer, it has to be the right fit. Jubril Osagie has been a major contributor this year, playing “the Tiger way.” Add in junior and three-year player Kendric Warren, a shot-blocking 6-7 center, and that makes for an athletic starting five. Ernest Burton, another senior who made the seamless transition two years ago as a transfer, is like having another starter as he’s instant offense off the bench, including a recent 27-point game.
Romero’s commitment to Central should be applauded and the school is fortunate that he’s been there as long as he has. After his four years as a player — he was a tremendous shooting wing man — he apprenticed as an assistant coach under Matt O’Brien for five years before being elevated to the job when O’Brien left for Southwestern. The Oklahoma City native gets the most out of his team and it plays a style that is fan friendly as the Tigers can get it up and down the floor in a hurry, yet can play defense with intensity and passion.
This could be the Tigers’ best chance ever to make noise at the national level. With the upperclassmen-dominated team, it has been through about every situation imaginable. As they say, there’s no substitute for experience.