Unknown and unappreciated? CCRI’s quest for the “big time”
Monday, March 26, 2012
Our winter of basketball discontent may have finished with a whimper for the big schools, but by now you should know “big time” teams and players aren’t necessarily the domain of the “big time” schools.
Want a real underdog story? Don’t look much further than Warwick to find it, where Coach Rick Harris and the CCRI Knights’ men’s basketball team once again matched wits – if not talent – with some of the premier junior college teams in the country over the past couple of weeks.
And darn near won it all. Does a second-place national finish qualify as a “moral” victory? Does a school-record 31 wins ultimately mean anything?
Sure, the Knights lost a national championship game Saturday night to season-long #1 Mott Community College of Flint, MI 70-60. Never mind the fact they were never really in it…and because their top player Desmond Williams was sick, they weren’t able to overcome a final bit of adversity in order to win it all.
No one likes to hear about moral victories, or close calls. A positive response to “did you win?” is all anyone seems to care about.
Except here. Underappreciated, underfunded, underloved…CCRI continues to prove that a program is built on its people, and true success isn’t defined by one person, one player or even one season. Even though there have been a lot of good ones, with home-grown Rhode Island athletes largely leading the way.
“We have always been well known in New England, and we are now making noise nationally,” head coach Rick Harris said, in the aftermath of taking his team within a whisker of a national title. “This will help us as we contact the countless talented student athletes around the country who end up not qualifying academically to receive a DI or DII scholarship.
“My emails from players across the country and even internationally have blown up lately.”
Winning begats winning, it seems. But in reality, CCRI has been winning for a long time. From the days of former coach Vin Cullen’s teams dominating at a regional and Division III national level – with local players like Abdul Abdullah, Ken McDonald, Marvin Owens and Brendan Murphy putting up points and putting on a show – CCRI has enjoyed almost unprecedented success. The program won its’ 900th game this season, and has turned out another player in Desmond Williams who should attract Division I attention.
As in four-year, big time school Division I attention.
“Doing so well nationally legitimizes our program with the four year schools in regards to recruiting our guys,” Harris explains. “JC schools sometimes have a hit or miss reputation. Marquette, with a former JC coach (Buzz Williams) and the Big East Player of the Year (Jae) Crowder has shown as well that JC players are battle-tested and ready to go.
“Like I tell our guys, the scouts want to watch winning teams – not 5-20 teams with a 25 point-per-game guy.”
So the culture seems to be firmly entrenched at CCRI, starting with coach Cullen, who finished his career 10th all-time in junior college coaching wins…and continuing at the present time with Harris, who has been around local basketball since the ‘80’s from his time coaching at Cranston East, Our Lady of Providence (with the late Joe Hassett, Sr.) and Johnston. He’s earned degrees from CCRI, Rhode Island College and PC. And, he still works in the Cranston school department as a special education teacher.
A local guy, coaching local kids to national-level success. Harris remains confident that the better days are not behind his program.
“CCRI will continue to be a team with a target on our back,” he says. “We get everyone’s best game, which in turn helps our guys improve. It’s all about exposure and getting better for our guys.”
Which should also mean more good news for the school, the community and the local basketball picture as well.