On College Hoops
It's been a rewarding experience for Omar Leary to play at Northeastern Junior College in Sterling, Colo., the past two years.
And it could end with a national championship. Fourth-ranked Northeastern (31-1) will play in the National Junior College Athletic Association Division I tournament Tuesday through Saturday at Hutchinson, Kan., and Leary will be front and center.
'I think we have a strong group,' says Leary, the former Lincoln High star. 'We knew we'd have a good year, because we had a lot of good guys coming back. We had to buckle down on defense and put the pieces together. We led the league in defense.'
The Plainsmen have a 61-5 record in the two seasons that Leary and former Lincoln teammate LaTravis Turner have played for them. Leary averages 13.5 points per game and Turner 11.2.
Leary has signed to play at Colorado State. But because the university recently fired Dale Layer, the coach who recruited him, Leary has been given the choice to renege on his commitment and sign elsewhere. He'll see what happens at nationals. Either way, Leary has gone the JC route, gotten his academic act together and improved his game.
'I've gotten smarter about the game, and I understand the point guard role more,' he says. 'In high school, I had to take a lot of the scoring load. I've found more balance (here), distributing and being aggressive on my shot.'
Says Turner: 'Oh, man, he has improved his game so much. His ballhandling skills got way better, jumper's way better, and he's been working in the gym a lot.'
Leary and Turner graduated from Lincoln in 2005 and went to the college in cold Colorado for the same reason - academics. Big schools backed off of Leary.
'My senior year I was in denial, I didn't want to accept the fact that I couldn't go D-I because of academics,' he says. Turner couldn't get into Portland State, which had signed him for football. Turner remembers sitting at a gas station as Leary talked with Northeastern coach Eddie Trenkle, and he decided to become a Plainsman, as well.
Turner says he has only one scholarship offer, from Fort Hays State in Kansas, but he hopes for more interest after nationals. 'It's up to my grades - all the schools have the same concern,' he says.
Leary says Turner is a lot more aggressive on offense now. 'He played post in high school, and here he plays the 3 and guards the other team's best player,' Leary says.
• Around the horn with Portland's Division I basketball players as the season wraps up:
Adrian Stelly, Benson: Oregon coach Ernie Kent said in the preseason that he expected Stelly to play significant minutes. It didn't happen - the senior averaged only 5.3 minutes and scored zero points. But Stelly, a four-year walk-on player, will go out on top with the Ducks - in the NCAA Tournament this week.
Darren Cooper, Benson: Despite an injury-riddled senior year, the hard-playing Cooper finished with more than 1,000 career points and ended as the Pilots' all-time best free-throw shooter (.853). He averaged 12.1 points as a senior and helped the Pilots break their 10-year losing streak in the West Coast Conference tournament.
J.R. Moore, Benson: The forward sat on Portland State's bench, redshirting, after transferring from Rhode Island. Coach Ken Bone sees Moore being part of PSU's depth up front next season.
Dominic Waters, Grant: The Hawaii sophomore averaged 17.1 minutes and 6.3 points, while shooting .394 from 3-point range. The next two years, Waters should see more playing time.
Marquis Hall, Jefferson: The freshman point guard became Lehigh's first Patriot League rookie of the year. He started 30 of 31 games, averaging 32.4 minutes and 10.9 points, 4.3 assists and 3.5 rebounds. He had 16 double-doubles. Collegeinsider.com named him to its Mid-Major Freshmen All-American Team.
Lathen Wallace, Jefferson: Oregon State coach Jay John says he debated whether to play the long-range shooter all season, but he opted to keep Wallace redshirting. The ex-Demo will be an added piece for the Beavers, the Pac-10's worst shooting team this season.
Mac Hopson, Jefferson: He played at important times for NCAA Tournament-bound Washington State, averaging 16.5 minutes and 4.5 points. He shot .448 from 3-point land, one of the Pac-10's best marks. He sat on the bench for much of the season but hit a jumper with 37 seconds left to help beat Oregon State. 'There were a lot of times I just cried,' Hopson tells the Seattle Post-Intelligencer about sitting on the bench.
Josh Tarver, Jesuit: The OSU freshman point guard learned on the job as John continued to predict greatness for him. Tarver started all 32 games, averaging 9.2 points and 3.8 assists in 33.2 minutes per game. He shot only .220 from 3-point land.
Seth Tarver, Jesuit: The true freshman sat on the Beavers' bench for long stretches, but he ended up playing in 29 games (starting six) and playing 12.7 minutes per game. He shot .384, mostly on layups, as his outside shooting continued to need work; he went 0 for 8 from the 3-point line.
Scott Dougherty, Jesuit: The senior guard/forward emerged for Santa Clara in the WCC season, averaging 14.9 points and being named to the all-league team. He entered the year averaging 1.9 points. He shot .420 on 3-pointers. The Broncos ended Gonzaga's 50-game home winning streak, as Dougherty scored 23 points, but they lost to the Zags in the WCC championship game.
Joey Kaempf, Jesuit: The senior guard helped the Broncos go 20-12 - they missed out on NCAA and National Invitation Tournament invites. He played 11.4 minutes and averaged 3.8 points.
Colin Hallberg, Lincoln: The 6-11 sophomore played in 14 Boise State games, averaging only 5.7 minutes. But he's a big body who can help the Broncos in practice. In one game, he had 11 rebounds.
Neal Zumwalt, Lincoln: While Eastern Washington's universe centered on Rodney Stuckey, Zumwalt averaged 8.4 minutes and 2.6 points in his senior year. Despite having Stuckey, the Eagles missed the Big Sky tournament.
Ian Andersen, Wilson: As a true freshman, Andersen played substantial minutes - 18.8 per game -and averaged 4.6 points for UNC-Charlotte. He shot only .314 from the floor (.315 3-point).
Marshal Hartman's career ended in the NAIA Division II tournament. Hartman, who played at Westview High and Portland State, averaged 16.6 points in his second season at Holy Names University in Oakland, Calif. … No word on what could be next for Brian Morris, the former Jefferson player. After playing at Southern Methodist during his freshman year, he transferred to North Idaho College - Hopson's former JC - and then got released at midseason.
Oregon State coach LaVonda Wagner has high hopes for former Jeff standout Brittney Davis, who redshirted after transferring from Minnesota. 'She's an extremely athletic, passing point guard,' Wagner tells the Corvallis Gazette-Times. 'She was at a top-25 program. She's a playmaker.' Davis played in 24 games in two years at Minnesota. … Grant's Cicely Oaks and Wilson's Jessie Shetters live to play another game. Oregon (16-13) made the Women's NIT and will face the winner of Thursday's game between UC-Santa Barbara and San Diego at 7 p.m. Saturday at McArthur Court. The Ducks are 10-1 all-time in the WNIT, having won the 1989 and 2002 titles.