The Grand Rapids Community College Raiders men’s basketball team is coming into this season hoping to build off of last year’s success.
The 2017-2018 Raiders made it all the way to the National Junior College Athletic Association Division II national tournament where they were eventually knocked out by the No. 1 ranked Cuyahoga Community College Triceratops. Last season, the Raiders went 26-10 overall, and were 12-6 in conference play.
Head Coach Luke Bronkema believes that his returning players can help lead this team in the right direction and carry last year’s success into the new season.
“We’ve got a few guys coming back that can help return some of the positive culture that we had,” Bronkema said. “But for the most part, it’s a new group of guys so we’re just looking forward to a brand new challenge and hopefully this group can come together at the right time and make something happen in March.”
One of the players returning is the 6-foot-6 sophomore forward Gregory “Diego” Robinson. He knows the road ahead is a tough one, but said that their goals for this season are the same they have every season.
“We just want to make it to the tournament again,” Robinson said. “That’s just our goal right now… First we want to take care of business in the season and take care of our conference but after that, we can focus on our other goals.”
One hurdle the Raiders will have to overcome is the ongoing construction at the Ford Fieldhouse. With the fieldhouse not set to open until the new year, the team will battle a similar situation that the volleyball team had to deal with this season. The Raiders are set to play their home games at Northview High School until the new year. Bronkema said that his players will have to find their own rides to the games as a team bus will not be provided.
“The real challenge is practicing,” Bronkema said. “You know, we don’t even have the same facility every night, so we’re bouncing around from gym to gym, no shot clocks. We’re just a rambling team, but, as long as you go into it with the right mindset, at the end of the season it could actually be helpful.”
Robinson knows the challenge of the first two months with no games played on GRCC’s campus will be difficult, but he has faith in Raider Nation and believes students and fans will still come out and support the team.
“It’s kind of tough… not having home court advantage,” Robinson said. “I mean, we’re still going to have home court advantage because we’re in Grand Rapids, so I feel like fans are still going to come out… and cheer us on and stuff. So we’ll be fine.”
This year’s team is loaded with freshman talent which can be a blessing and a curse. Of the 19 players on the roster this season, 14 of them are freshman. With so many new faces, Bronkema will be looking for his sophomores to step up and show leadership.
“It’s real early in the season, and we have high expectations for a lot of our players,” Bronkema said. “We’re hoping for sophomores Diego (Robinson), Willie (Otole) and also Sam (Ryans) to have big years this year. Maybe not necessarily scoring a ton of points, but just in (an) overall lead role for the team. We’ve got a handful of freshman coming in as well that we expect to do great things.”
As one of the sophomores Bronkema mentioned, Robinson wants to be a leader, but also has personal goals set for himself like earning the Defensive Player of the Year award. He acknowledged that he can’t do it without help from his teammates, and he’s excited to see how the freshman pan out this year.
“We have… a lot of freshman, a lot of good players that came from all over the state,” Robinson said. “We got a lot of young talent, and they’re going to help us out in the long run this season.”
The basketball season can be long and grueling lasting nearly six months. Bronkema wants to make sure that the team is focused on the here and now while also keeping their eyes on the ultimate goal.
“We’re just going to go one game at a time at this point,” Bronkema said. “Our goal every single year would be to win a conference championship, win our conference tournament… then make it back out to nationals. But right now, we don’t focus a lot on that. We’re just focussing on trying to get a little bit better each and every day.”
The Raiders will open their regular season with a matchup against the Grace Christian University Tigers’ JV squad at 7 p.m. Thurs., Nov. 1 in Wyoming, Michigan. The team’s first home game of the season will be against the Alpena Community College Lumberjacks at 8 p.m. Fri., Nov. 16 at Northview High School located at 4451 Hunsberger Ave. NE in Grand Rapids. The Raiders won’t host their first home game at the newly renovated Ford Fieldhouse until Fri., Jan. 11 when they welcome the Lansing Community College Stars at 7:30 p.m.