Blue Knights Basketball Crushes First Season

Basketball Team Crushes First Season

Team breaks top 10 in national poll

Kevin Thompson #22Men’s basketball at Dakota County Technical College established a remarkable presence during the team’s inaugural season. The Blue Knights posted a win in the program’s first game and went on to finish the season with an impressive 24–7 overall record. The Knights reached as high as #8 in the National Junior College Athletic Association Division II poll, with several outstanding athletes showcasing teamwork and individual skills along the way.

Cam Stoltz, athletics coordinator at DCTC, praised Head Coach Jay Pivec and Associate Head Coach Ron Gates for building a powerhouse squad from the floor up.

“The basketball team blew away all expectations,” Stoltz said. “Jay and Ron established a framework for great things to come.”

After concluding the regular season with 23 wins against only six losses, the Knights hosted the Gogebic Community College Samsons in the first game of the NJCAA Region 13 Tournament March 1, 2012, winning 87–67. They then traveled to North Dakota to take on Bismarck State College. DCTC and the Mystics had split their two previous meetings, but the Knights lost in overtime 94–90, ending an overwhelmingly successful season.

Early struggles
Chris McMorris #23Things didn’t always look so promising for the Knights. The lack of a home gymnasium and bus transportation presented formidable obstacles for the coaching staff and players.

Coach Pivec explained that a recruit’s access to a vehicle was a crucial point of discussion when deciding if the player would make the team. “I have to recruit kids with cars,” he said. “That’s a major logistical issue for us. I could be talking to one of the best players I’ve ever seen, but no transportation will more than likely be a deal breaker.”

Kevin Thompson, 21, a 6’1” sophomore wing from Brooklyn Park, Minn., agreed that transportation snags could sometimes prove challenging, but nothing could decrease his enthusiasm for the DCTC basketball program.

“It’s just like one big family here and I love it. That’s why I come in smiling every day,” Thompson said. “DCTC pretty much sets you up to succeed. You’ll be taken care of and that’s one of many pros that outweigh the cons.”

Stephen Solaja #15
First game ever, first win ever

A landmark highlight of the season for Pivec arrived when the Knights beat the North Iowa Area Community College Trojans 89–78 in the opening game. “This wasn’t our third game or fourth game,” Pivec remembered. “This was our first game as a team against a good squad on their home floor. You could see it in our player’s faces after we won. This was history. We’ve got the photo, we’ve got the game ball. Twenty years from now, that’s still going to be there.”

20 wins and on a roll

Early on, the plan was to simply be competitive, but that perspective soon changed. Pivec explained, “As we started to win games, I turned to our assistants and said, ‘I think we have a chance to win twenty games.’”

Bryale Winters #14In college basketball the number 20 is synonymous with a successful campaign, which puts a 20-win season high on a coach’s priority list. The Blue Knights reached that goal by mid-February, dropping the University of St. ThomasJV 79–74 in overtime.

Getting national recognition

“We were a new program and I didn’t anticipate we’d ever be a ranked team, but we beat enough quality opponents that people took notice,” Pivec said, referring to the NJCAA Division II poll, which fluctuated throughout the season. “We broke the top 20 and it was exciting.”

Dwight Goins #32Part of the reason for the ranking was the quality of DCTC opposition. Four of the team’s seven losses were to teams that made it to the national tournament. Two were to top teams in the Minnesota League.

“We didn’t lose to anybody we were guaranteed to beat,” Pivec said. “We lost to good teams.”

The Knights topped out at #8 on the national poll near the end of the regular season, generating buzz and momentum going into the playoffs.

Tourney time

“We had a great crowd,” said Pivec, pointing to the regional opener against Gogebic. “We played in this venerable, historic gym that doesn’t hold a lot of people. But when you get a full house in there, it’s a great atmosphere.”

Pivec marked the game as pivotal for both the players and the fans. Men’s basketball had arrived for real and the DCTC community took great pride in their accomplishments.

Clinton Parker #34Three days after their tournament win at home, the team travelled to Bismarck to take on the Mystics. DCTC tied the game at 82 with seconds left in regulation, but couldn’t bring home the win in OT.

“Another highlight of the season was playing in the championship game,” said Pivec. “The lowlight was losing in overtime and the long bus ride home. Having that opportunity and being so close is tough because you don’t get those opportunities every year. But it was great moment to have.”

Pivec looks back on his first year at DCTC as the best year of coaching in his life. “This was a special group,” he said. “I was rejuvenated. These kids were tremendous students. They weren’t a problem at all off the court.”

The caliber of the team made the loss to Bismarck all the harder. Pivec clearly recalls the heavyhearted atmosphere in the post-game locker room. Even so, coaches and team captains spoke about what the season meant to them.

Pivec told his team, “You guys brought us on this journey. It’s a two-way street. We get as much satisfaction coaching you as you do playing.”

Preston McCourt #20He credited the way his coaches and players bonded as a team as a critical factor to a putting together a hugely successful season. “We tried each other, pushed each other, and consoled each other,” he said, “and when the guys got ready to walk out of the locker room after that last game, we told them they were champions in our eyes.”

Individual triumphs

Sophomore Wing Kevin Thompson was named NJCAA Division II Player of the Weekin mid-November. He went on to be named an NJCAA DII Third Team All-American. Thomson, who averaged 16.1 points, 8.8 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game, has signed a letter of intent to continue his basketball career for the Ashford University Saints in Clinton, Iowa.

“My work ethic makes me a good basketball player,” said Thompson, who played high school ball at Minneapolis North. “I’m never satisfied. I feel like even if I do good at something, I have to do better at it.”

Freshman Wing Clinton Parker from Chicago, Ill., joined Thompson in earning NJCAA Region 13 All-Region honors.

Coaching convention: Never satisfied

An NJCAA Hall of Fame Coach with a sterling record as head coach at Minneapolis Community and Technical College, Jay Pivec is a legend in two-year college basketball circles. According to Thompson, there’s “just something about Coach Piv.”

DCTC Blue KnightsThompson noted that his coaches share the players’ hunger for more. “Even if I’m on my game, they expect more,” he said. “They’re never satisfied, regardless of how good you’re doing. I feel like if you’re satisfied, you won’t get to that next step.”

Mutual respect defines the relationship between players and coaches. Thompson recognized how Pivec and his coaching team molded him into a better all-around person by expecting excellence both on and off the court. When asked if his coaches set him on the right path, Thompson said with certainty, “I know they have.”

Pivec got his start in athletics growing up. He reached a point where he saw he probably didn’t have a future as a high-level player. That insight prompted him to start working as a coach in youth organizations. He connected with great mentors, including Lloyd “Butch” Raymond, former head basketball coach of the MSU Mankato Mavericks and an inductee in multiple halls of fame.

“Butch was the guy who saw something in me,” said Pivec.

Ron Gates, the team’s associate head coach, has been Pivec’s right hand for 22 years. Ed Cassidy is in charge of player development. He has 19 years of experience as a head coach of boy’s high school basketball.

Jerrodd Berven #45“Both Ron and Ed are outstanding coaches,” said Pivec. “We just moved it across the street and didn’t miss a beat. Everybody knew their jobs and it fell in place like clockwork.”

Pivec emphasized a keystone of his staff’s coaching philosophy. “The expectation is if you play for us, this is just the beginning,” he said. “You don’t come and play and that’s the end of your career both academically and athletically. We’re expecting you to move on and get a four-year degree.”

Shooting for the future

“Next year doesn’t have anything to do with this year,” said Pivec, who realizes anticipation will be high for a stronger second season. “People don’t want to play us, so I’m having a hard time finding games.”

That makes for an extremely challenging 2012–2013 schedule. Pivec and his staff are recruiting players who can compete at that higher level.

“We’re not afraid of the expectations,” he said. “We want people to think, ‘They know what they’re doing, they’re going to be good.’”

Kevin Thompson will be graduating this year, but he felt happy (but not satisfied) knowing how many people in the DCTC community know about the basketball team and their incredible inaugural year.

“This has been a great experience,” he said. “We’re recognized now, and we’ll be remembered for what we accomplished in our first season.”

For more information about Blue Knights basketball, contact:
  • Jay Pivec
    Men’s Basketball Head Coach
  • Ron Gates
    Men’s Basketball Associate Head Coach