The old Cougars are gone

How will the new Cougars fare?

Last year's edition of the men's Cougars basketball team was the most successful in the history of Columbia College, making it all the way to the national championship game before falling to the Rocky Mountain Battlin' Bears 77-61.

But they didn't start out that way.

With a loss to William Woods University on Jan. 22, 2009, the team fell to 13-6. So, in his 21st season at Columbia College, Coach Bob Burchard decided to shake things up. On Jan. 24, with Williams Baptist College visiting the Southwell Complex, Burchard substituted not individual players, as is commonly done, but entire five-man squads every 5 or 6 minutes, a system he called his blue (starters) and white (bench) team system.

It worked. The rejuvenated Cougars trounced Williams Baptist 93-51 and proceeded to win nine of 10 games and storm the AMC Championship. They also earned an automatic bid to the NAIA National Tournament in Kansas City. The Cougars had been frequent visitors to the tournament – 13 times in 15 years --- but no one knew how far the wave would take them. The wave crested in March 2009, and Burchard's boys enjoyed every minute of the ride.

The No. 14 ranked Cougars have eight new players this year, so watch Burchard make the unorthodox orthodox again this year. Four Cougars are returning, including 6'6" forward senior Quintin Totta, one of the team's sparkplugs, and 6'9" forward Vitaly Ahmedov. New players are 5'11" freshman guard Kaleb Turner and juniors William Cobb (6'1", guard), Aleksandar Eric (6'5", guard), Reo Quarles (6'4", forward), Jaron Strickland (6'3", guard), Adam Carpenter (6'1", guard), Josh Davis (6'4", forward) and Chad Thompson (6'2", guard).

Turner is the team's lone freshmen but already a proven talent. He averaged 15 points, four assists and two steals per game at Gateway Tech High School and was a First Team All-Conference and All-District selection in 2008-09.

Cobb spent his first two college years at Lewis & Clark Community College in southern Illinois where he was an All-Region and All-Conference recipient his sophomore season after averaging 11 points, four rebounds, seven assists and two steals per game.

Eric, a native of Serbia, transfered from Westmoreland County Community College in Youngwood, Pa. A childhood friend and teammate of former Cougar Miroslav Lukic, Eric was an All-Conference, All-Region and All-State selection his freshman and sophomore seasons, averaging 17 points, six rebounds and four steals per game.

Quarles, from Belleville, Ill., spent the last two seasons at John Wood Community College. He was a high school teammate of current Cougar guard Taylor Evans. Quarles is a two time All-Conference and All-Region recipient and was ranked fourth in the nation for rebounds per game his sophomore season, with 12.

Strickland, a native of Hesperia, Calif. transfered from Florissant Valley Community College in St. Louis, where he averaged 20 points, seven rebounds and two assists per game as a sophomore, ranking him in the top 20 for scoring in the NJCAA Division II.

Carpenter, a native of Doniphan, Mo., spent two seasons at Three Rivers Community College, Poplar Bluff, Mo., where he was a two-year starter and led the Raiders to two Region 16 titles and a fourth place finish in 2007-08 at the national championship. He averaged seven points and two assists per game while draining 44 three-pointers his sophomore season.

Davis, a native of Evansville, Ind., attended Rend Lake College in Ina, Ill., where he was team captain. In his sophomore season Davis averaged 11 points, four rebounds and three assists per game.

Thompson, a senior transfer from Campbell University in Buies Creek, N.C., spent his freshman and sophomore years at Moberly Area Community College. As a sophomore, Thompson averaged 18 points, four rebounds and three assists per game.

"We are very excited about this year's recruiting class," said Burchard. "We are losing six seniors who had a major impact on our program. We needed to recruit a very large class with experienced players in all positions. I am very happy with the character and skill level of this group and sincerely feel they will blend well with our returning players."

The Cougars may not have a true test in their season opener Nov. 3 at home against the Concordia Seminary (Mo.) College Preachers -- given that they defeated the Preachers by 73 points in last year's home opener year.

Columbia College Cougar basketball events are held in the Southwell Gym, 700 Rangeline Rd., Columbia. Tickets are $8 for adults and $5 for students to all men’s basketball games; free with your 2009-10 Cougar Club All-Sport Family Card, which admits four people to any Columbia College regular season sporting event.