Head coach Jared Phay and assistant Corey Symons have high expectations this year for their men’s basketball team with All-Region selections returning and freshmen and transfers joining the NIC program.
The Cardinals have three returning All-Conference players in 6-foot-9-inch forward Michael Middlebrooks, 6-foot-2-inch guard Keon Lewis and 7-foot center Kaj Sherman.
Symons said they are three really good players who know what the league is about, what to expect and what it takes to win in the conference.
Middlebrooks led the conference in blocked shots and was fourth in the nation with 3.7 a game last season. He almost averaged a double-double in points and rebounds while shooting 62 percent from the floor last season, which also led the conference.
Middlebrooks comes highly recruited having Division I schools like Gonzaga University, the University of Nebraska and the University of Utah looking to recruit him for next year’s season.
“We have high expectations both physically and academically for our players,” Symons said.
In fact, NIC athletes in general average a 2.8 grade point average while non student-athletes at NIC carry a 2.5 GPA.
The Cardinals’ men’s basketball team was an Academic All-American team last season averaging a 3.0 GPA.
Phay and Symons both return for there eighth seasons and both coaches said they have great expectations for their offense this year.
Guard Chris Sarbaugh won a state championship at Gonzaga Prep in Spokane, Wash., and went on to play for Gonzaga University. Middlebrooks and freshman James Webb III from Augusta, Ga., are two of the most athletic men in the nation, let alone the conference, according to Symons.
Symons also said they have a few strong wings, who he knows will get the job done.
“First we want to get the ball and run, pushing it up the court,” Symons said. “Once we get our half court set, we want to pound the ball inside, and then work inside out.”
The Cardinals have led the conference for a few years in defensive field goal percentage and are ranked 16th in the nation defensively. Phay emphasizes disciplined defense.
“This year’s team has a lot of heart and chemistry offensively and defensively,” Middlebrooks said. “Once the new guys learn the plays, I feel really confident about our team as it progresses this season.”
Phay and Symons feel this year’s team is more of a mature team and a great group of guys who work really well together and have each other’s backs on and off the court.
NIC plays Tohono O’odham Community College Nov. 1 and Arizona Western College Nov. 2. Both games will be played in Yuma, Ariz. The team will come home Nov. 13 to play Gonzaga’s club team.