A day after feasting on turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, and pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving, the Western Nebraska Community College men’s basketball team will be trotting onto the court at Cougar Palace by hosting the Cougar Thanksgiving Classic Friday and Saturday.
The Cougars open the tourney on Friday at 7:30 p.m. when they face Frank Phillips College. Trinidad State Junior College will face the Nebraska All-stars in the earlier match at 5:30 that night.
Saturday’s action begins at 2 p.m. when Trinidad State takes on Frank Phillips followed by the Cougars taking on the Nebraska All-stars.
Vinnie Shahid, who is among the nation’s leaders in assists and assist-to-turnover ratio, said the Thanksgiving games is a time to give thanks and come together as a family.
Shahid said last year they spent Thanksgiving on the road, but this year they get to share Thanksgiving with their families and friends and a little basketball to the home folks.
“This weekend is a chance for us to come together stronger as a team,” Shahid said. “The freshmen haven’t had the experience of having Thanksgiving away. Last year we spent Thanksgiving on the road in Utah and it was a great experience. It gave us a bond that we are thankful that we do face in playing basketball. We do get to look in the mirror to say we do have to be thankful for being able to play the game of basketball this weekend.”
Shahid said the team is looking forward to this weekend’s contest.
“Hopefully we will get a big crowd,” Shahid said. “But whether it is a big crowd or a small crowd, we will still play the same basketball. So, hopefully, we can get a big crowd.”
Not much is known about Frank Phillips or the Nebraska All-stars. Shahid said it is more important that they focus on what they do best and that is score and especially play defense.
“We don’t know anything about either of the teams, but we do know what we are capable of, and we are going to try to play our best brand of basketball no matter who we play,” Shahid, who inked with Division I North Dakota State University earlier this month, said.
Frank Phillips comes into the classic with a 5-3 record, while Trinidad State is 7-1 on the season. The Nebraska All-stars is a team taking the place of Quakerdale Prep Academy, who backed out earlier this week.
Bo McVay, a Mitchell High graduate and played a year for the Cougars, got the all-star team together and he believes that this group of local players, many of which played college basketball either at WNCC or elsewhere, will be talented.
“I’m really excited for this weekend. It’s going to be great to get some of the guys I use to play with and or against together and just have a fun weekend,” he said. “I think we are going to be one of the most athletic all-star teams we have had here in a good while. We have some pretty good athletes as well as some good shooters.”
Besides McVay, the all-star team will include Zac Bibb, Taylor Lackey, Ryan Guzman, Chris Guzman, Quentin Baxter, Jaime Gonzalez, Brett Birch, Brian Judy, and possibly Mike Peltz and Tim McDavid.
While this all-star team is looking to upset some people, the Cougars themselves are looking to keep rolling along. WNCC is 4-2 on the season after sweeping Region IX opponents Central Wyoming College and Western Wyoming Community College over the weekend.
Shahid said they played well last week, but there is still room for improvement.
“We just need to stick together as a team, keep building our trust and commitment, trusting our offense on the offensive end, and trying to get more stops because we want our defense to lead our offense,” he said. “We really have been pushing the defensive end this weekend which will lead to more stops and more buckets on the offensive end.”
The Cougars are a juggernaut on offense. Against Western Wyoming, The Cougars had five players in double figures, led by Shahid’s 21 points and Djodje Dimitrijevic’s 19 points. WNCC shot 57 percent from the field Saturday’s win.
WNCC is averaging 97.2 points a game so far this season while giving up just 74.1 points.
“It is all about trust and commitment on the defensive end,” Shahid said. “We have to trust each other and to be able to have each other’s backs. I think if we do that, it doesn’t matter who scores.”
WNCC has six players averaging in double figures. Shahid is scoring at an 18.7 clip followed by Dimitrijevic at 14.7 points. Marlon Sierra is scoring at 13.8 points a game followed by Trent Harris at 13.3, Jervay Green at 12.3, and Martin Roub at 10 points a game.
A big key to the wide range of scoring is because the team is sharing the ball well. WNCC is averaging 17.7 assists a game. Shahid is dishing off 5.7 assists a game followed by Sierra at 3.4, Dimitrijevic at 2.8 and Green at 2.5.
“It doesn’t matter who scores,” Shahid said. “The key is finding an open man with the passing because passing leads to contagious scoring. I really believe that we all can score the ball and we believe in each other to score.”
After this weekend, the Cougars will host Williston State on Monday in a women’s and men’s doubleheader.