Editor’s note: The following is part five in a summer series of some of the most memorable moments in Barton athletics
It was March 20, 1999.
The Barton Community College men’s basketball team took the floor at the Sports Arena in Hutchinson. At stake was the NJCAA National Championship. The Cougars opponent would be 2-time defending champion Indian Hills (Iowa). A near capacity crowd of 7800 people filled the building, mostly Barton fans.
It was the final script of what had been a tremendous basketball season at Barton. Not only were the men playing for the NJCAA Championship the women had spent a bulk of the season ranked in the Top 10.
It was definitely a season many around it will never forget.
“It was a fun time,” long-time Barton athletic secretary Dana Foss recalls. “Everyone was excited. The crowds that year were unbelievable and everyone was behind them.”
Expectations were high to start the season but not through the roof. Barton was coming off a 29-4 season and had the services of 7-3 Aleksander Radojevic back.
But the Cougars were under the direction of a 25-year old first-year coach in Ryan Cross and no one else but Radojevic returned. Barton was picked to finish third in the Jayhawk West behind Hutchinson and Butler County.
It didn’t take long for those expectations to rise – through the roof.
In the season opener against Lee (Texas) College sophomore transfer Lamont Roland led a 92-50 win. Roland had been the Mid-American Conference Newcomer of the Year the previous season at Ball State. Five games into the season he already had a pair of 42-point games.
DeMarcus Minor, a transfer from Marquette also established himself as a big-time player right from the start.
Throw in Northeast Conference Player of the Year Joe Fermino, a transfer from Monmouth (NJ) University and John Carson, a transfer from Cincinnati and it was apparent Barton had something special brewing on the basketball court.
By the time the All-American Tournament at the Bicentennial Center in Salina ended the final weekend of November there was little doubt the Cougars were among the best in the nation.
Prior to the tournament Barton traveled to South Plains (Texas) College and put a 91-56 drubbing on the ranked Texans ending a home-court winning streak of more than two years.
The All-American Tournament started with a tight win over perennial power Southern Idaho and ended in the title game with a whipping of Dixie State (Utah). Barton hammered the NJCAA preseason No. 2 ranked team 88-60 in the championship game.
When the first poll since the preseason poll came out that following week Barton, 12-0 at the time, went from unranked to No. 3. Among those 12 wins were victories over five teams either ranked or receiving votes.
Barton wrapped up the non-conference slate with a pair of wins at the Jayhawk Shootout for a perfect 14-0 record.
Meanwhile the Barton women behind the play of Tribune freshman Wendy Okeson were having a season worth noting as well. The Cougar women were 12-0 and ranked No. 9 in the country under Coach Tony Hobson.
The Jayhawk Conference season started with some battles. Barton won at Seward County 82-77 then beat Dodge City, 72-67. Following those two wins – coupled with Indian Hills’ first lost in 90 games – Barton moved to No. 1 in the country.
Meanwhile the women lost for the first time – at Seward County – and fell to No. 14. It would be the women’s only loss of the regular season.
After earning the top ranking in the country the Cougars squeaked by Butler 84-80 in overtime and won at No. 4 Hutchinson 92-87 as Roland combined to score 75 points in the two wins over the preseason Jayhawk West favorites.
Then Barton started rolling. The Cougars closed out the first time through the conference with dominating wins. Barton won 124-78 over Colby, 102-52 over Pratt and 108-81 over Cloud.
The Cougars continued to blow out Jayhawk foes as February started with easy wins over Seward, Dodge and Garden.
At that point in the season Barton was 25-0. The women were also cruising at 22-1 and ranked No. 7.
Then Barton stumbled.
The combination of Tony Jackson and Michael Jackson combined for 54 points as Butler handed Barton its first loss of the year, a 94-81 setback at the Power Plant in El Dorado.
Barton responded in a big way, drubbing 20th ranked Hutchinson 83-58 at the Barton Gym then throttling Colby, 125-89, and Pratt 94-54, on the road.
As the regular season finale at Cloud loomed, Barton was No. 2 in the nation with a 28-1 record while the women were 26-1 and just outside the top five.
The regular season ended with a stunning 85-84 loss to a 14-16 Cloud County team in Concordia.
But that didn’t derail the Cougars as the Region VI tournament got underway. Barton rolled by Highland at home 86-69 to start the post season then picked up a 97-84 win over Cowley County in quarterfinal play at the Bicentennial Center in Salina.
The women, however, saw their season end in the semifinals with an upset loss to Independence.
The Cougars crushed Seward 82-63 in semifinal action setting up a title game with Garden City. It was a battle in the finals but behind a balanced attack Barton prevailed for a 75-71 win to earn the school’s second trip to the NJCAA National Tournament.
In Hutchinson, Barton got on a roll. The Cougars hammered Aquinas (Tenn.) College behind a double-double from Roland. Roland scored 32 points and grabbed 10 rebounds as Barton won 120-86 in the first round.
A Minor double-double propelled Barton into the semifinals. Minor scored 26 points and grabbed 11 boards as Barton won 95-74 over Bacone (Okla.) College in the quarterfinals.
Roland put up 25 points and Radojevic grabbed 16 rebounds as Barton earned its first ever spot in the championship game with a 103-90 win over Kennedy-King (Ill) College.
Indian Hills had a tougher road to the finals. The Warriors won a tight 66-61 game over Trinity Valley (Texas) in the first round then edged Dixie State, 72-65 in the quarters. Indian Hills defeated Weatherford (Texas) 103-93 in the semifinals to set up the much anticipated championship game.
It was just the second time in tournament history the No. 1 and 2 teams in the country would battle for the title.
At stake for Barton was the school’s first title. For Indian Hills, it was trying to become the first team ever to win three straight titles.
“There were a bunch of Barton fans at the game,” Foss said. “We had a large majority of the fans there. Everyone would cram as many people as they could in a car and car pool to the games in Hutchinson because parking wasn’t the best.
“It was just an amazing atmosphere. I remember standing up most of the night, just about everyone was standing in our section.”
Almost from the start, things didn’t go well for Barton. The Cougars struggled offensively as the Indian Hills defense held Roland and Radojevic in check.
A Terry Black dunk over Radojevic five minutes into the game thrilled the large Indian Hills contingent and frustrated Barton’s 7-3 center. Radojevic would get in first half foul trouble and sit seven minutes as the Warriors built a 42-33 lead.
The Warriors put the hammer down to start the second half. Indian Hills came out of the locker room and outscored Barton 17-2, taking a commanding 59-35 lead just three minutes into the half.
Barton would use a late run to get within 10 but never threatened Indian Hills who ran their record to 112-2 over three seasons with the 100-86 win.
“They took us out of what we wanted to do offensively,” Cross would say after the game. “We had a hard time establishing our inside game and we didn’t shoot it well.”
Indeed. Barton his just 42 percent from the floor and made just 4-of-23 3-pointers.
Minor finished out his career with a 30-point game to go with 10 rebounds for his second double-double of the tournament. Roland shot just 5-of-18 for 15 points and Radojevic fouled out and picked up a technical during his 10-point night.
On the floor that night in Hutchinson were a pair of players drafted into the NBA straight out of junior college. Radojevic was the 12th pick in the draft in June of 1999 while Cory Hightower spent another season at Indian Hills then was the 54th pick in the 2000 draft.
In addition 12 players went on to NCAA Division I schools – five to high majors. Minor and Indian Hills’ Terry Black become teammates at Baylor.
Roland, the NJCAA Player of the Year in 1999, went to LSU. Fermino went to Iowa and Shon Coleman of Indian Hills went to Georgia.
The rest, including Carson for Barton (Akron), went to mid majors.
While the ending to the season was not what the Barton faithful wanted, it was a season to remember none the less. The two teams combined to go 64-5.
“There were lots of tears after the loss,” Foss remembers. “But then you realized after it was all over how well everything had gone. You didn’t feel it at that moment but later you remember what a tremendous season that was.”