Dave Ruthenberg, Sports Editor
Enid News and Eagle
ENID, Okla. —
When the Northern Oklahoma College Enid Lady Jets’ basketball team made its run last week into the Sweet Sixteen of the NJCAA national tournament in Salina, Kan., it marked another successful season, something that has become commonplace, not just for Lady Jets’ basketball, but for the overall athletics program at the two-year junior college.
Though they didn’t win a title, their run certainly drew attention, judging by the calls that were coming into the News & Eagle newsroom wanting to know how they did and when they would be playing next.
And that attention extended to Facebook where a reader posted on the News & Eagle Facebook page that “these ladies deserve a community’s gratitude for representing the college and the City of Enid ...”
It’s not by accident the NOC Enid program strives to represent Enid. In fact, it’s quite by design.
It’s no secret junior college athletics has a bit of a reputation of being the “Wild West” of the collegiate sports world, with an outlaw underbelly. It’s often seen as a refuge for highly troubled kids or kids with questionable backgrounds that land at a two-year college — many of which are no more than basketball or football factories with barely the slightest of nods toward academics — for the sole purpose of increasing their athletic stock.
But that’s not the case everywhere.
“We (the NOC Enid coaches) are definitely going to look at character first,” said NOC Enid men’s head basketball coach Greg Shamburg, whose team completed another winning campaign, going 21-8. Shamburg, who just completed his 13th season as head coach and has a 254-151 career record, is well aware of the reputation that preceeds junior college athletics.
“We don’t have an outlaw program,” he said. “Our president (Cheryl Evans) wouldn’t want that, and our athletic director (Jeremy Hise) wouldn’t accept that. It’s not what we are about.”
Yet, despite being more selective, or careful, about which athletes they recruit, NOC Enid continues to produce winning seasons in men’s basketball, women’s basketball, baseball and now softball.
“We recruit kids differently,” Shamburg said. “Most junior college kids are (NCAA) non-qualifiers, but most of our kids are qualifiers. The big key in recruiting for us is we want kids who are interested in education too. Of course we want good players too, and we still get good players.”
The facts bear that out with more than 50 of Shamburg’s former players going on to play at four-year colleges, including Connor Brooks who is currently playing for NCAA Tournament participant Stephen F. Austin, which advanced to today’s second round after upsetting VCU.
The same is true for Lady Jets’ head basektball coach Scott Morris, also in his 13th year at NOC Enid. His team posted a 22-11 mark this past season. He has coached seven All-Americans and more than 35 academic All-Americans, while averaging 24 wins per season and has taken the Lady Jets into the national tournament, including a run to the Final Four in 2011 and this year’s appearance in the Sweet Sixteen before falling in overtime to an undefeated Hutchinson, Kan. squad.
Shamburg believes NOC Enid’s recruiting helps to differentiate its programs from some of the other junior colleges.
“I can go into a home with mom or dad and tell them your kid is going to a positive environment,” Shamburg said.
“If you come to our gym and watch our guys play pickup or practice, the atmosphere is different. We have a lot of coaches that come in from Division I or Division II schools and tell us ‘man, you have some really good kids.’”
That is not to say of course every athlete that comes to NOC Enid is perfect.
“Sure, we have kids that can make mistakes, they are college kids after all,” Shamburg said. “We just try not to recruit kids that have a checkered past. We don’t want midnight phone calls (from the police). We don’t want to have to run kids out of our program.”
NOC Enid focuses on players who may need to get bigger or stronger to get the attention of the four-year colleges, but still have their academics in order.
Does that making winning more difficult? It doesn’t appear to have had that impact and Shamburg wouldn’t want to have to win by backtracking on the program’s recruiting standards.
“I know guys (other coaches) who have won championships and have been miserable,” he said. “I don’t want to be that way.”
Building a family feel
And while the very nature of being a two-year college means there is less time for bonding, NOC Enid appears to break that mode as well.
Prior to the start of the Lady Jets’ tournament run, Addi Shamburg, the daughter of Greg Shamburg, spoke to the Lady Jets’ team. Addi, an 18-year-old senior at Oklahoma Bible Academy, gave the team a pep talk, which is quite impressive considering she is fighting a battle of her own with Hodgkins lymphoma.
Her talk clearly touched the Lady Jets, and their head coach. The team donned sported warmup T-shirts prior to their tournament games that read “ADDItude” in support of the younger Shamburg.
“She is truly inspirational,” said Lady Jets’ head coach Scott Morris last week during the national tournament, saying she “challenged the team to look at the big picture and it really put things in perspective.
“We all wanted to come out and see what we could for her.”
It was another indication that there is something a little bit different, a little out of the ordinary, or at least outside the expected norm in the otherwise transient world of junior college athletics as Shamburg and Morris have been able to build a program that has a feeling of family among its players at NOC Enid.
And that formula for success has not been limited to basketball. The NOC Enid baseball program under head coach Raydon Leaton has been nationally ranked in 11 of the last 12 seasons and just like Shamburg and Morris, he he has been at NOC Enid since 2001. Leaton has over 400 career wins. Several former Jets have earned Division I baseball scholarships and a couple have been taken in the Major League Baseball draft.
Another sport has been added this year, with softball replacing women’s volleyball. And apparently not wanting to be left out of the success mix, the Lady Jets, in their first-year under head coach Jamie Roberts, are off to an impressive 19-6 start and are likely going to be ranked when the first Division II softball rankings are released this week by the NJCAA.
Understandably overshadowed, even locally, in the collegiate sports picture by Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, NOC Enid still has carved out a niche for itself as a highly successful junior college sports program.
The fact it has been able to do so without much of the baggage that can accompany recruiting in the JUCO ranks seems to be striking a resonant chord within the community and has not gone unnoticed. Those phone calls and Facebook posts back that up.