Swedes have talent to make deep national run

By Steve Sell
January 20, 2014

It’s been 24 long years since the Bethany College men last won the KCAC regular-season championship.

That drought may end this year.

If the Swedes continue to play the way they did in the second half Saturday night against intracounty rival McPherson College, they’re a team that not only can win the KCAC title, but make a deep run in the postseason tournament in Point Lookout, Mo.

The Swedes spectacularly dropped 55 second-half points on the Bulldogs, who saw their eight-point lead dissipate into a 21-point loss. Mac had controlled the tempo in the first half and pounded the Swedes inside, but in the second half it was a case of the Swedes turning loose their greyhounds and watching them run.

This is without question veteran coach Clair Oleen’s most talented team during his 21-year tenure. While his 2003 Swedes won the KCAC Postseason Tournament and went on to make a miracle run in the national tournament to take second place, that team didn’t have the stable of thoroughbreds this year’s team does.

I really believe if the Swedes can develop the chemistry of that 2003 team, they have the talent to go as far or farther than McPherson College did two years ago when it was one victory from playing for the national championship.

The Swedes are led by the remarkable Idris IbnIdris. The 6-5 guard is a transfer from Cal-Riverside, where he played for former Kansas State coach Jim Wooldridge, who is a longtime friend of Oleen.

To be honest, I can’t figure out why IbnIdris is wasting his time playing at this level when he’s clearly an NCAA Division I talent. He’s as graceful and explosive as any player I have covered in my 35 years of KCAC basketball. He can fill it up out to 30 feet, yet is so gifted he can finish at the rim with resounding dunks. He’s truly a once-in-a generation player for the Swedes. I used to think Kirk Swenson was the best I ever saw in the Swedes’ blue and gold, but IbnIdris takes it to another level.

Another impressive player for the Swedes is scoring machine Kirby Hawkins, who doesn’t start yet has piled up some 30-point games off the bench. He has accepted his role of being the team’s “microwave,” as he comes into the game firing. He’s very strong and like IbnIdris, can explode to the rim. Dwight Abad, a blur-like point guard, keeps the team under control and Oleen has a nice rotation of big men that can play above the rim as well.

I’ve seen all the KCAC schools except for Southwestern, which is a second-division team, and there’s no question Oleen has far and away the best athletes. He’s basically gone all-in on transfers and while they’re players that will only be in Lindsborg for two years, he’s made it work. While the Swedes at times looked disinterested on the defensive end, it’s breathtaking how quickly they can put points on the board and the fashion they do it, as it’s like watching a high-wire act.

Oleen’s team reminds me of the old Independence Junior College teams I covered in the middle 1970s, teams that went on to win back-to-back NJCAA nationals championships. They fly up and down the court with a flair and are as entertaining to watch as any KCAC team I can remember.

The Swedes are in a dogfight with Friends for KCAC supremacy. The Falcons feature the nation’s No. 1 scorer in Joe Mitchell and while he also has no business playing at this level, he hails from Wichita and I’m told he just wanted to play at home. 

Friends held serve in the first meeting between the teams in Wichita, 100-82, but I can’t wait for the rematch Feb. 13 at Hahn Gym, which probably will have to close its doors because the place will be packed, not to mention rabid. The Swedes’ student section is as intimidating as any I’ve seen this year.

The Swedes will have games with Sterling and Saint Mary before playing Friends and they could slip up in one of those. But I have a feeling both Bethany and Friends are going to stay perfect until that game next month at Hahn. Circle it on the calendar. I know I am.