Stability and junior college basketball don’t really go hand in hand.
Players usually spend one year – sometimes two – at a school in order to improve their grades or garner enough attention to draw interest from a Division I school. It’s simply part of the process.
(Of course, one-and-done players also have become commonplace at Power Five programs, but that’s another story.)
“You’re recruiting a new team every year,” said Shaun Gutting, who just finished his first year as the assistant coach for the Casper College men’s basketball team.
With so much roster turnover year to year, program stability at the junior college level usually is found on the sidelines. That’s been the case at Casper College, where Angel Sharman has been the volleyball coach for 17 years and Dwight Gunnare just completed his 11th season as the head women’s basketball coach.
Until recently, the men’s basketball program also had stability in Dan Russell. He was an assistant coach for five years before taking over as the head coach on April 16, 2013. Russell’s six-year stint as the Thunderbirds’ coach ended when he accepted a job last week to be an assistant coach at Montana State University.
During his 11 years on the Casper College bench, the T-Birds re-established themselves as one of the premier programs in Region IX. After a 13-19 season under first-year head coach Joel Davidson in 2008-09, the T-Birds won at least 20 games every year since. The highlight came this season when Casper College went 32-3, finished No. 6 in the final regular-season rankings, and won the Region IX championship and advanced to the NJCAA Championships for the first time since 1996.
The season was not anomaly, though. Rather, it was a culmination of the hard work and countless hours put in by Russell and his assistant coaches over the years. The success not only helped Russell land a job as a DI assistant, but it also helped at least five players off this year’s team earn DI scholarships and another sign with a DII school.
So what’s next for the T-Birds?
Sharman, who also serves as the school’s athletic director, has a decision to make. Of course, vice president of student services Kim Byrd and school president Dr. Dan Devine, among others, also will figure prominently in the hiring process.
They have to know that Casper College has become a desired destination for junior college players looking to play for a winning program and get to the DI level. Obviously, Russell had a lot to do with that.
“The biggest thing that sold me on coming here was the tradition and the potential,” Gutting said. “Coach Russell did a great job of maintaining a program that cares about the right things … graduating players, getting them to the next level and things that go beyond basketball.
“Casper is a community where a lot of people want to be a part of this program and are willing to put their full support behind our program as a whole. It just seemed like a no-brainer when the opportunity came.”
If stability does indeed matter, then Gutting is the right man for the job.
He has built a relationship with the returning players – big man Philip Pepple Jr., point guard Jalen Harris and redshirt sophomore Isaiah Banks chief among them – and has already been hard at work recruiting players for next year’s team.
Gutting has admittedly applied for the job and expects Sharman and school administrators to start interviewing candidates in the next couple weeks. Until then, he’ll continue to do his job.
“I’m just trying to keep that fluidity going with the recruiting process,” he said. “I want to have guys ready so they’re here when the coaching decision does come.
“So right now I’m just kind of in a holding pattern. Personally, I’m doing all I can to make sure everybody knows how much I want to be here and continue what Coach Russell has going on here. There are just a lot of question marks.”
True, but there’s also an answer. And that’s Shaun Gutting.
Follow sports editor Jack Nowlin on Twitter @CASJackN