Southern trio reunited, renewed in Idaho Tyson, Johnson finally find home, add Cason to class/court success

March 17, 1992|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,Staff Writer

Maybe they just can't find happiness unless they're playing for a team with the name Southern.

Craig Tyson, for instance, had bounced from school to school since being chosen the Baltimore area Player of the Year after a sensational 1988-89 season at Southern High.

And Adam Johnson, an All-Metro selection two years ago at Southern, left Allegany Community College in Cumberland, one of the premier junior college teams in the country, and did not return after one season.

But Tyson and Johnson appear to have found a home at the College of Southern Idaho in Twin Falls, Idaho, a perennial JuCo power that is keeping them on the court and in the classroom.

And they recruited another Southern High All-Metro pick -- David Cason -- now a freshman at Southern Idaho.

"I came here because I heard it was a nice program with a good reputation," said Cason. "I wanted to get away from home and experience other parts of the United States."

Tyson, Cason and Johnson and the rest of the Golden Eagles take their 31-3 record into today's opening of the 16-team junior college national tournament in Hutchinson, Kan. They play Wabash Valley Community College, the Illinois state champion, in a first-round game.

"Going to nationals is always a goal at CSI," said Cason, a 5-foot-11 point guard. "We know that a lot of teams are just happy to be there. We are going there to win it."

Southern Idaho has a deep basketball tradition -- it was National Junior College Athletic Association champion in 1986-87 and national runner-up in 1989-90. In January, CSI lost at home for the first time since December 1984, a streak of 137 games -- a record at any level of college basketball. The Golden Eagles' 30-win season is their seventh consecutive -- another record.

The Baltimore-to-Idaho connection began when Southern Idaho coach Fred Tenkle had a conversation with Hagerstown Junior College coach Jim Brown after the teams' game in Twin Falls last jTC season. The subject was Tyson, who had become academically ineligible after one semester at Hagerstown.

"I wondered how a great player could flunk out, and Jim told me that what he needed was a place like ours, with dorms," said Tenkle.

"Things were not working out at Hagerstown," said Tyson. "I had played against CSI when I was there and became interested, because they always have a nice crowd and people here take interest in the team -- something that's not always seen on the JuCo level."

Tyson's college odyssey began at North Carolina State in fall 1989, when he arrived as a freshman who was ineligible under Proposition 48 guidelines. He was supposed to enroll in remedial classes at N.C. State, but did not, instead returning home to take classes at the Community College of Baltimore. In spring 1990, he attended N.C. State and was supposed to play with the Wolfpack that fall.

But N.C. State was being investigated by the NCAA, and Tyson decided to enroll at Hagerstown. He played in fall 1990 and flunked out. So, counting a summer at Alvin (Texas) Junior College, Tyson had taken classes at four schools and had played one semester of basketball between leaving Southern High and coming to Southern Idaho.

At Hagerstown, Tyson, 6-5, was the leading scorer, and the Nighthawks were 10-1 when he became ineligible.

Hagerstown assistant coach Kenny Keyes said: "We thought the best thing was to try to relocate him and hope he got the message. I think he has finally found the right school."

Tyson arrived at Southern Idaho this past summer.

"Craig came out here for summer school, and he told us about another teammate [Johnson] who had left Allegany and then about another [Cason] who was thinking about Hutchinson [a junior college in Kansas]," Tenkle said. "Adam never even visited here. It just fell into place."

"He convinced me it was a good school and a good program," said Johnson, a 6-9 center. Although he does not start for CSI, Johnson was considered one of the top big men in the JuCo ranks when he was at Allegany. But Allegany coach Bob Kirk said he "asked him not to come back for disciplinary reasons."

"The hardest thing about leaving the East is not seeing my 14-month-old son," said Johnson. "Wherever I go next year, it will be to a place that will take both me and my wife, because she is still in school, too. Right now, I am talking mostly with West Coast schools, but two or three from the East have contacted me."

Should Johnson decide to stay at Southern Idaho, though, chances are he would graduate. Jim Dawson, the school's academic adviser, said the athletic department has an 89 percent graduation rate, and the other 11 percent transferred to Division I schools beforehand.

"I think that says we're doing something right," Dawson said. "We follow the progress of these kids pretty closely. We're working awfully hard with Craig and pretty much make him go to class. Same with Adam. We check their work.

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