Nine games into the season coming off last year’s appearance in the NJCAA Division II national championship game, the 16th-ranked Pima Community College men’s basketball team is 6-3 with four players out because of injuries.
Despite the three defeats and a patchwork team because of the injuries, coach Brian Peabody said after yesterday’s 104-87 rout of No. 13 Scottsdale — handing the Artichokes their first loss of the season — that “we’re about right where we projected” heading into holiday break.
That says a whole lot about the coaching ability of Peabody and his staff and the production of his top core of players — sophomores Abram Carrasco (Cholla grad) at point guard and forwards Robert Wilson (Salpointe) and Kennedy Koehler (Henderson, NV, Coronado).
Carrasco had 27 points, eight rebounds and seven assists in yesterday’s game against the Artichokes (7-1). Wilson had 24 points on 9-of-14 shooting and Koehler had his eighth double-double (23 points and 14 rebounds) in the first nine games.
Numbers like that can be a Band-Aid to an injury-riddled team. Former Ironwood Ridge guard Cole Gerken, for example, tried to play yesterday but back spasms kept him out for most of the game.
“They’re making me coach,” Peabody said shaking his head with a laugh. “I don’t know if you saw our bench, but we have 15 guys who are hurt. It’s like the next man up and I think the guys have done a really good job coming in filling a role that they may not be used to playing.
“(Former Tucson High guard) Jordan Robinson (a freshman) was not playing three weeks ago and now he’s starting. It’s just next man up and we keep plugging away and hope nobody else gets hurt.”
Robinson made all three of his 3-point attempts and had 13 points yesterday. Rashad Smith, a freshman guard from Chandler Hamilton, contributed 13 points and seven rebounds.
Reserve forward Deshaun Flannigan-Fowles, a former Mountain View standout who is the brother of former Arizona defensive back Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles, had eight rebounds in 11 minutes.
Former Catalina standout Marquise Moore had an assist in three minutes of playing time off the bench for Scottsdale.
Peabody’s optimistic outlook — with his team playing only two more games in a 20-day span before Dec. 28 — also reflects what he believes his team got out of his early-season scheduling of tough NJCAA Division I opponents such as Odessa (Texas), Arizona Western, Cochise College, Eastern Arizona and Central Arizona.
Odessa is ranked No. 8 nationally in Division I. Pima lost to Odessa 84-69 last month at home. The Aztecs have also lost to Arizona Western (ranked No. 22 in Division I) and Cochise.
“This win (against Scottsdale) is big for us,” Peabody said. “I just told my guys right here that’s why we play the schedule that we play. We’re plugging away. We’ve played Odessa, Division I. Cochise, Division I. Western, Eastern, Central, Division I. So those are our first five games, real games, and that’s why we do what we do.
“We’re not playing lesser opponents. We try to put together the hardest schedule that we can so when we play teams like this we’re prepared. (Scottsdale) was the first Division II team that we played. … We have to keep plugging away and take care of business when we play the Division IIs and we’ll be fine.”
The “being fine” part has a lot to do with the performances of Carrasco, Wilson and Koehler, who scored 75 of Pima’s 104 points yesterday. They comprise as good of a three-player core as any junior college team in Arizona.
“Abram, he’s a lot of fun to coach when he gets it going. The last three games he’s been on fire,” Peabody said. “He had 35 against Western, 25 against Central and 27 tonight. When he gets it going like tonight, he’s a hard guy to guard.
“(Wilson and Koehler) are traditional bigs. They can play facing up or with their backs to the basket. They are the glue to our team. If we need a basket and we’re trying to draw something up, we get the ball to one of those guys inside to score.”
After playing at Tohono O’Odham on Wednesday, Pima hosts the Benedictine University junior varsity team on Saturday. The Aztecs are then off until hosting Golden State Prep on Dec. 28.
“Going into the season I thought we were going to be as good as we were last year,” Peabody said. “It’s just going to take time. We lost our top six guys off last year’s team so these guys are coming together and meshing together. I was hoping by Christmas that we would be pretty good so I think we’re about right where we projected.”
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ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon.