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Men’s Basketball Reaches Playoffs in Rebound from Last Season

4/12/18


A team approach was key to the Vikings' success. Photo by Derek DiGregorio.

Freshman Yotam Paz goes for two as his teammates await a possible rebound. Photo by Derek DiGregorio.

Freshman guard Donovan Guess finished the regular season as the 8th leading scorer in the nation in NJCAA Div. II basketball. Photo by Derek DiGregorio.

Guard Tory Whiting was a key contributor. Photo by Derek DiGregorio.

From right, Head Coach Howard Levy, with Assistant Coaches Stan Tuchez and Jordan Jernigan, both of whom are Mercer basketball alumni. Photo by Derek DiGregorio.

West Windsor, N.J. – Beating Del Tech Stanton on Feb. 17 to clinch a playoff spot was the goal of the Mercer County Community College (MCCC) men’s basketball team in the home stretch of the regular season. And, while they lost a close game to Raritan Valley Community College in the first round of the Region 19 Tournament, Head Coach Howard Levy says the Vikings were almost always in the game and wins were almost always within reach.

Levy, having completed his 10th year at the helm of the Vikings basketball program, says he saw plenty of good things on the court this season. For starters, the Vikings’ final record of 12-16 was a vast improvement over the 2016-17 record.

“We had a chance in almost every game. There were times where we just couldn’t get over the hump for the win,” Levy said.

The team contended with numerous injuries, plus bad weather and other circumstances that cut into their practice time. “In an ideal season, my guys have enough time on the court to grow into multiple positions, giving us valuable versatility. This season, we were rarely at full strength in practice. Players didn’t get enough time together. That made a difference in close games,” Levy reflected.

The Vikings had a lot of talent on the roster. They scored at least 70, and often more than 80, points in 19 of their 28 games. Freshman guard Donovan Guess was a standout in almost every game. He was one of the top scorers in National Junior College Athletic Association Division II, finishing the regular season as the nation’s eighth highest scorer with an average of 22 points per game. He was named the Garden State Athletic Conference Player of the Week three times, and was a First Team All-Region 19 pick. (Guess is the first men’s basketball player to earn First Team All-Region  honors since All-American David Johnson in the 2014-15 season.)

Levy says this group was all about winning as a team. "These players liked each other. They were unselfish with the ball. They developed together as a team, moving the ball well,” he said. “They picked up on the Mercer offense and they worked hard.”

Their accomplishments were particularly impressive, given that the roster included only one returning sophomore, Dave Coulanges. “That means that team members had to get used to each other quickly and to learn Mercer’s style of play. They did a great job,” Levy said.

Levy points to other important members of the squad including John Evans, Yotam Paz, Whiting, and Tory WhitingEddie Williams and Jordan Wright. Others who contributed to the Vikings’ success were Juice Thompson and Malique Hughes.

He noted that some players who did not get a lot of time in the first half of the season had their chance later on and proved to be valuable assets.

Levy is also pleased that this year's team also finished strong academically. “These guys worked hard athletically and academically,” he said.

According to Levy, prospects for the future are good. “I can’t remember when we’ve had so much potential for so many good players to come back," he said. “We need that continuity. Every one of our players counts and, with hard work during off season, they should be bringing a lot to the court next year.”

In addition to freshmen who are expected to return, Levy and his assistant coaches are already recruiting. He predicts that with a few strong additions to the roster, the Vikings will be in a good position to make a run for the Region 19 championship next season.

Levy was assisted by basketball alumni Stan Tuchez, now in his fourth year on the coaching staff, and Jon Jernigan, who played for the Vikings in 2010 and 2011. Also joining the staff this year was Joe Jankowski.

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