MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Hutchinson, Kansas doesn’t sound like a very lively place, but it’s the Mecca for Junior College basketball.
For the Southwest Tennessee Community College Saluqis, they’re on their way to play on the biggest stage for the first time in five years, despite an unorthodox season.
The Saluqis were the last team in Memphis to take the court and start their season because of Covid-19. That was January 27th. Three months later, they’re the last team standing on their way to the first trip to the NJCAA National Tournament since 2016.
“We text each other throughout the day like, man, we’re going to Hutch,” Amory Sanders said. “I’m like if you asked me three weeks ago, I told people, it wasn’t going to happen. I didn’t see it happening.”
Three weeks later, they’re on the road.
“Man it’s crazy, I’m happy about it. I pretty much knew we were going to be here. It ain’t that surprising to me,” Freshman guard, Kendrick Holland said.
According to DeCoreio Smith, “We’re going to win.”
Juan Cajelli said, “It’s amazing.”
It’s been a dream season after Amory Sanders was named Interim Head Coach, last season.
“Which was rough because I’m also a teacher,” Sanders said. “I’m a learning specialist and interventionist at ECS, which I love dearly to my heart, my kids go there. And I was also coaching middle school basketball as well.”
Sanders felt like he could make a difference in his players’ lives. He credits his coaching staff, Anthony Hall and Quincy Harris, for leading the team to an 11-4 record.
“We preach ownership, we preach accountability, we preach selflessness and we also preach seizing the opportunity and seizing the moment,” he added.
As Sanders preaches it to his team, he practices it himself. The interim head coach named TCCAA West Division Coach of the Year.
“He pushes us, he’s on our back hard, but we know it’s all love,” Holland said. According to Smith, “He’s our father figure slash best friend. Whenever we mess up he gets on us and talks to us about it, but he always comes right back with something encouraging and positive.” Cajelli added, “He’s always trying to keep us confident and get us what we need. He’s been amazing the whole year.”
The confidence Sanders gave to his players all year comes into play even more at the JUCO National Championships. The Saluqis are the 23rd seed out of 24 teams. But as Sanders tells his team, don’t quit until the job’s done.
“We’re coming to make some noise in the national tournament. Now, if the teams we’re playing think we’re a 23 seed and we’re a cakewalk, they’ve got another thing coming. Because we’re all Memphis. And we all know about Memphis. We grit and grind. So they better lace their shoes up tight and be ready to play,” Sanders smiled.
The Saluqis play Coffeyville in the first round, Monday, April 19th at 4:30pm.