Inside tiny W.S. Scott Auditorium, there are already epic battles going on when the Cowley College men’s basketball team gathers for practice.
In backcourt drills, 6-foot-5 point guard Ben Vozzola, a transfer from the University of San Diego, is pushing 6-2 sophomore shooting guard James Milliken, a prolific scorer and last season’s Jayhawk East freshman of the year.
Under the basket, the competition is fierce between a trio of big men who all have aspirations to land at a Division I schools — 6-6 redshirt freshman Rayshaun McGrew, 6-8 sophomore Curtis Evans and 6-8 sophomore Dominique McKoy, a transfer from Rhode Island.
None of them deny things already seemed ratcheted up early in the season, and each of them cite a 55-year drought of Region VI titles as the reason why.
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“It’s the thing that drives me, every day, that drives the players,” Cowley coach Tommy DeSalme said. “We want to do something for this school and this community, for the people that come out and make basketball such an important part of this town.”
It’s a goal that changes slightly this year with the NJCAA Division I tournament’s new format of allowing at-large teams opposed to one team out of each region, but DeSalme and his coaching staff have put together a team that seems primed to make an impact on the national level.
Vozzola, a Las Vegas native, redshirted at San Diego two years ago and only played in three games last season before transferring to Cowley in January.
“Coming in January helped me adjust, comfort-wise, and also adjust to the juco style of play,” said Vozzola, who has an offer from Washington State and is being recruited by Nevada, Colorado, Penn State, Tulsa, Oklahoma State and Iowa. “I like to create for others and get my teammates involved first ... scoring can come for me later.”
Milliken already has offers from Bradley, Southern Illinois and Murray State and averaged 17 points last season .
He and Vozzola were both top 100 players this summer at Jerry Mullen’s junior-college camp.
“(Region VI) is something we talk about every day,” Milliken said. “We talk about it before practice, after practice and even when we’re just hanging out. It’s always there.”
Evans averaged 8.5 points and 5.5 rebounds last season as the Tigers lost to Seward County in the Region VI final.
“We have a great opportunity here if we all come together, which we’ve been doing,” Evans said. “And it’s fun going against Ray and (McKoy) in practice every day.
“We’re all pretty competitive with each other and it gets pretty intense, but we’re more mad when we don’t push each other day in and day out.”
McKoy was left looking for a new home when he didn’t mesh with a new coaching staff at Rhode Island, led by Dan Hurley.
“I kind of thought playing at a junior college was going to be easy,” McKoy said. “That wasn’t the case at all. I’m constantly pushed in practice. We all want to get better.”
Cowley was picked to finish second in the Jayhawk East, behind Coffeyville. The Red Ravens have won the last two Jayhawk East titles.
“We had great chemistry last season and I see a lot of those same qualities on this team,” DeSalme said. “Winning a region title isn’t purely about talent.”