Ex-redshirts buoy Cecil CC's defense of national title

Magowan, Wyatt, Stephens watched 2006 championship game from sidelines

Men's College Basketball

Ncaa Tournament

March 21, 2007|By Christian Ewell | Christian Ewell,SUN REPORTER

Cecil County Community College's Tim Magowan, Aaron Wyatt and Dennell Stephens are particularly hungry as they prepare to defend the basketball team's Division II national title for two-year colleges this week in Danville, Ill.

The sophomore trio was with last year's 33-2 squad for every practice, and was with the team for the National Junior College Athletic Association tournament, when the Seahawks defeated Kirkwood (Iowa) Community College, 64-63, in the championship game.

But despite playing as freshmen for a team that lost to Brown Mackie (Kan.) College in the national title game in 2005, Magowan, Stephens and Wyatt didn't play a minute for Cecil last season as they sat out as redshirts, part of a system that has helped Bill Lewit compile a 286-85 record at the North East school.

Their hope is that patience will have served them well as the top-ranked team approaches its first-round matchup with South Suburban (Ill.) College (24-9) today at 1:30.

"Being on the team and losing to Brown Mackie, then seeing us play hard and win it, I've experienced both sides," said Magowan, a 6-foot-3 guard from Elkton who averages 12.5 points , one of six players averaging double figures in scoring. "So I feel that we know what it takes."

The Seahawks (30-2) enter the tournament with similarities to the team that had a championship run of 29 straight wins. This team has eight sophomores; last season's team had six. The loss total is identical, and like last season, the team hasn't lost since December.

Once again, Cecil has dominated the rest of the junior college teams in Maryland. The Seahawks beat Frederick Community College on March 4 to earn the trip to Danville. It was their 60th consecutive win over teams in the Maryland JuCo Conference.

"It feels the same," said point guard Keyron Sheard, who led the country in assists this season with 9.5 per game. "We came in with a target on our back, being the No. 1 team. Everyone wants to come at us, so we have to match their tempo."

That didn't hit home until a month into the season, when Harcum (Pa.) College came into Cecil's gym Dec. 22 and left with a 95-82 victory.

The loss could be attributed to a combination of complacency that comes with great success, and a lack of familiarity among the Cecil players, a common malady in junior college basketball, even with eight sophomores. Magowan, rebounding leader Stephens (11.8) and Wyatt had not played in a game with Sheard and Les Simmons -- the team's leading scorer at 18.3 points per game -- when this season began. Paris Carter (Lake Clifton), Qavotstaraj Waddell and Naurice Mullins are all transfers.

"It took awhile to make it come together," Lewit said. "We didn't start playing well until mid-January. It just happened through film study; they see statistics and they've been increasing the level of effort."

With their final trip to Danville, the three former redshirts are hoping to erase their last memory of playing on the court at Mary Miller Gymnasium.

"It's definitely a motivation. No one wants to fall short," Magowan said. "That last game was in the back of our heads. We don't want to be the group that doesn't win."

christian.ewell@baltsun.com

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