Season In Review: 2017-18 Stags Basketball

Jack Ely drives to the bucket.
Jack Ely drives to the bucket.

Written by Mike Haas CMC '79

MORE TEAM RECORDS FALL

20th SCIAC TITLE

THIRD NCAA ROUND OF 32 PERFORMANCE IN PAST FOUR YEARS

2017-18 turned out to be a season of two stories as the team struggled early to find itself and then went on a run that never had been seen before in the 60-year history of Claremont-Mudd-Scripps Stags Basketball.

CMS continued its dominance of the Sothern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SCIAC) with its eighth championship in the past 10 years.  It is the 10th conference title for the Stags since the start of the new century. Going further, in the 11 years of the SCIAC Postseason Tournament, CMS is the only SCIAC team to make the tournament every year. The Stags have been in the championship game nine of those 11 seasons.

CMS now has won 20 SCIAC titles, which is more than any other conference school in the 59 years CMS has participated in the SCIAC. The next closest team has won 12. CMS has won more SCIAC games than any other conference opponent. Indeed, no other SCIAC team can approach the recent success of Stags Basketball.

But the success does not stop there as CMS continues to make its presence felt on the national level. For the third time in the past four years, the Stags reached the Round of 32 in the NCAA national tournament.  And this year the waves were as loud as ever as CMS upset No. 2-ranked Whitworth, and then took No. 1-ranked Whitman to overtime. It not only was that CMS performed so well at the Walla Walla Regional, but it was that CMS came into the tournament as the only team in the country that had not lost a single game in 2018.

It was the second-straight year that CMS had to fly to Walla Walla to play the same two Northwest conference opponents. And it was the second-straight year that the Stags upset the Pirates and pushed the Blue to the limit. But that was no surprise to the Stags as they had surprised the naysayers two years earlier in Texas when they ran away from Texan Lutheran in the opening round and then threatened nationally ranked host East Texas Baptist in the next round.

Putting all the pieces of this story together, CMS went on a streak that set the standard for all future CMS teams. It was a 17-game run from the beginning of 2018 that went all of January and all of February. No Stags team in the past ever had won that many games in a row. This run also allowed the stags to reach the coveted 20-win mark for the 12th time in CMS history. It allowed CMS to finish the conference schedule with a run of 15 straight wins and a 15-1 record - the best that ever has been achieved since the SCIAC went to a 16-game schedule. And it allowed the Stags to continue their ongoing streak of winning seasons as CMS now has compiled 21 consecutive winning seasons. No other conference school can say that either. The team also set a school record by shooting 73 percent from the free-throw line for the season.

The heart and soul of the team lies with the seniors. They can brag about three conference titles and winning 48 conference games in 4 years for a 75 percent winning mark. And even more, these are the only players in CMS history who can say they have won not one but three first round NCAA games.  They have left a legacy for the future of CMS Basketball that their teammates can be proud of. They left it on the court and showed how hard work pays dividends. They showed how a true work ethic on the court will last with them over their lifetimes in their future endeavors.

All of these seniors struggled through injuries, and not just once but multiple times, during their careers at CMS and yet came back for to reap the rewards and to celebrate the thrills of victory. It was a unique trademark of this team that saw the team stay true to the course and never wavered from the principles of Stags basketball. These seniors showed their teammates what Stags basketball is all about. And that showed clear for when the time came for their teammates to take the court, there was no missing of the beat – the newer members of the Stags family played just as hard and executed the Stags way just as well as the senior leadership.

We will miss the seniors as they move on but we never will forget them for their contributions to the CMS family and the continued success of Stags Basketball both in the annals of the CMS record book and nationally for all alumni of CMS to be proud of.

There were four juniors, seven sophomores, and four freshmen joining the five seniors making up the Stags' roster. All twenty members of this championship squad can claim credit for contributing to the team's success on its journey to the NCAA Tournament.

Michael Scarlett (Sr., CMC, Irvine) returned for his fourth season after being named SCIAC Player of the Year and second team All-American as a junior. He has been a three-year starter and two-year co-captain.

Scott Lynds (Sr., CMC, Laguna Niguel) continued his comeback from injuries that caused him to miss 1 ½ seasons including the 2017 NCAA Tournament. In a season that showed more than just his resilience, Lynds put up record numbers while also serving as team co-captain.

Jack Ely (Sr., CMC, Saddle River, NJ) is another 4-year letter winner who also lost his sophomore year to injury. He rebounded well as a two-year starter and a team leader as co-captain. 

Kendrick Morris (Sr., CMC, Houston, TX) was the 2015-16 most improved player and showed that was well-deserved as he moved into the starting post position. And then was the most improved player again. A four year letterman and a two year starter, Morris has set field goal shooting records for years to come.

Andrew Maddock (Sr., CMC, St. Louis, MO) transferred to CMS last year and then spent the first half of his first season sidelined by injury.  But he more than recovered by helping the Stags to SCIAC championships in 2017 and 2018 as one of the tag-team post players.

Patrick Myers (Jr., CMC, Portland, OR) continued his strong play inside as first relief at center. His soft touch on offense and rebounding strength on defense added to the woes of CMS opponents. Ryan Kusch (Jr., HMC, Seal Beach) gave the Stags the luxury of both a wing and an inside forward coming off the bench. He also gave the defense a shot in arm late in the game. Mark Sui (Jr., CMC, Fremont) is a three-year letter winner and gave CMS a reliable and consistent boost as the back-up point guard needing to run the potent Stags' offense. Nicolas Segura (Jr., CMC, McLean, VA) returned after a one-year hiatus to play the small forward position and brought back with him his ability to drive the basket from the baseline or the top of the key.

Seven freshmen form 2017 took flight as sophomores in 2018 and continued their growth in the CMS family. Miles President (So., HMC, Chino Hills) maintained his starting spot and once again showed his strength both offensively and defensively at the wing position throughout the year. Sam Garvin (So., CMC, Paradise Valley, AZ) and George Walker (So., CMC, Washington, D.C.) provided needed energy off the bench at the wing and small forward spots. Kele Mkpado (So., CMC, Santa Barbara) once again was relief at the wing position and could drive the basket or pull for the 3-pointer.

J.D. Levine (So., CMC, New York, NY) was another able-bodied back-up at the point with the ability to knock down the 3-point shot. Maxwell Kirsch (So., CMC, Atkinson NH) came off the bench to relieve as power forward and brought the most energy with him onto the court. Jeremy Horn (So., CMC, Wynnewood, PA) returned for his second year and showed tremendous growth in his ability to score and to defend at the post.

Chukwueloka Oti (Fr., CMC, Los Angeles) came in as a back-up point guard and showed his versatility both offensively and defensively. The remaining three freshmen saw the court as forwards but would show their three-point shooting prowess. Mitchell Kirsch (Fr., CMC, Atkinson, NH), joined with his brother Max. Joey Bodoia (Fr., CMC, Tacoma, WA) and Jack Peterson (Fr., CMC, San Diego) were the other freshmen forwards who contributed to the 13th most potent CMS offense of all time.

The season that would end in Washington started in Wisconsin as the Stags took on UW Platteville and UW Whitewater, two perennial NCAA playoff teams from the Midwest. Two losses in Wisconsin brought CMS home for the annual Wells Classic.

The Wells Classic, named in memory for long-time CMS head coach and athletics director David Wells who won 324 games and six SCIAC titles in his 25-year reign as leader of the Stags, brings top academic schools to Claremont over Thanksgiving weekend for top basketball competition. This year was no different, as George Fox University and the University of Puget Sound from the Northwest Conference came to take on CMS and Pomona-Pitzer. The early season woes continued with two more losses.

The first victory of the 2017-18 season came in an 84-65 win over California Miramar University. This was followed by the only conference loss of the year in the SCIAC opener at Redlands. Not to be discouraged by the early season stumbles, the Stags were able to turn it around three days later in the first contest of the year against cross-campus rival Pomona-Pitzer 72-67.

Coming back from winter break, CMS was able to start off with a win 87-64 against Northwest Conference rival Lewis & Clark. Entering the second phase of SCIAC play, the Stags started their remarkable 17-game win streak that would carry them to an undefeated January and February.

In a stretch of five home games in their first six games of the new year, the Stags came away with wins at friendly Roberts Pavilion over La Verne 90-63, Cal Lutheran 80-72, Whittier 86-76, Caltech 66-56, and Redlands 80-66. 

Road wins over Chapman 70-63, Cal Lutheran 76-57, La Verne 72-53, and Whittier 85-65 sandwiched a second win over Pomona-Pitzer 73-60. The Stags then had to face Occidental in a battle for first place as both teams had only one loss at that stage of the SCIAC race. The first of two games with the Tigers in nine days was played at home and that advantage gave the edge to CMS in a 70-60 win.  The rematch at Occidental was just as tight and came down to the final minutes as the Stags held off a wild Tiger rally to sweep the season series 68-62.

Chapman came to the Roberts Pavilion as the Panthers had upset on their mind and fighting for their own spot in the post-season conference tournament. But the Stags had a bigger goal on their mind looking for another SCIAC championship. Trailing at halftime for the first time in any conference game, CMS turned it on in the second half to win 72-63 and secure the SCIAC title for the 20th time in its history. The SCIAC season ended three days later with a 75-68 win at Caltech to give the Stags their 15-win conference schedule; a SCIAC record.

By virtue of winning another SCIAC title, the Stags earned the top seed for the post-season conference tournament. CMS still is the only SCIAC school to be in every tournament since its inception in 2008. In the semifinal game, CMS was matched up against Chapman for the second time in a week. Once again, the Stags held off the Panthers 83-72 to earn its place in the tournament finals for the ninth time in eleven years. 

The finals match-up was against cross–rival Pomona-Pitzer – this would be the sixth time these two opponents faced each other in the championship game. Thanks to a first-half offensive explosion, CMS went into the locker room with a 20-point lead. The second half was more of the same as the Stags defeated the Sagehens for the fifth straight time in a championship setting 86-62. The win gave CMS an automatic bid into the NCAA play-offs for the second straight year.

And for the second-straight year, the Stags found them traveling to Walla Walla, WA to play Whitworth University in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. This year, the Pirates were ranked No. 2 in the country and looking for revenge as the Stags upset Whitworth in the 2017 playoffs. But coming from behind, CMS played upset spoilers again with a dramatic 83-82 win. This win also gave CMS its 20th win on the year.

The following night saw the Stags being rewarded with a rematch against host Whitman, the No. 1 team in the country. Falling behind by double-digits, CMS put on a furious rally to tie the game at 76-all and send the contest into overtime. Unfortunately, this amazing season and the 17-game win streak came to an end in the extra period 89-84.

At season's end, the conference coaches got together to pick the top players for All-SCIAC recognition.  Scott Lynds was selected second team All-SCIAC making his patience to fight back from injuries the past two seasons worth the effort. Teammate Kendrick Morris returned to the all-conference team but was promoted to the first team All-SCIAC. Becoming only the fourth player (all CMS) to be repeat winners, Michael Scarlett received top honors by once again being selected recipient of the David Wells Memorial Player of the Year trophy. Finally, Ken Scalmanini and his coaching staff were honored as the SCIAC Coaching Staff of the Year for the second-straight year and the third time in the past four seasons.

There were further honors for Scarlett as he was named first team All-West Region and then third team All-American; the second-straight year he received such recognition.

At the team's annual banquet, Jack Ely, Scott Lynds, and Michael Scarlett were honored as team captains.  This award is significant to the Stags as the team captain award has been renamed the Bob Sunshine Captain's award. Bob Sunshine (CMC '61) was team captain on the original Stags teams in 1958 and 1959 and has become one of the team's biggest fans. He is the only person who was at the first Stags basketball game in Ducey Gym in 1958 and at the last Stags basketball game in Ducey Gym in 2014. He has been a loyal supporter since he first wore the Stags uniform on opening day in 1958.

Senior Jack Ely was named as the best defensive player for 2017-18 and sophomore Jeremy Horn was the most improved player. Finally, Michael Scarlett was named team most valuable player for the second-straight year. 

The final team award given out is the Chris Kampe Memorial Hustle Award. This is a special honor given in memory of Chris Kampe (CMC '85) who was an all-conference guard and Berger Prize winner as the outstanding senior at CMC in 1985. He passed away from multiple myeloma in 1993 leaving a legacy of friendship and a large sense of pride about Stags basketball. The award is given to the player that shows the best in the way of hard work, extra effort, and determination. Sophomore Max Kirsch and senior Scott Lynds were honored as the 2018 Kampe award honorees. Their commitment to CMS basketball paid dividends for them and their teammates this year with a conference championship and advancement to the round of 32 in the NCAA Championships.

And so now it is time to look forward to 2018-19. With five players lost to graduation, but with fifteen players returning, the future continues to look bright for Stags Basketball. The team will look to defend its SCIAC title once again. The team will open its schedule in Chicago at the prestigious University of Chicago Tip-Off Tournament. 

The season continues with the Wells Classic as Northwest Conference rivals Whitman and Willamette come to Claremont over Thanksgiving weekend for an exciting two games of Division III basketball.  This tournament was named in memory of David Wells and carries on the tradition he started and believed in of excellence in academics and athletics.

The mad rush to the conference championship then begins in December with the conference opener against rival Pomona-Pitzer.

We thank you once again for your support of CMS Stags Basketball where you now can follow the team via live streaming and live stats. For more information on the team, please visit the Stags Basketball webpage.