The Kilgore College Rangers will enter Monday night’s season opener with lofty expectations.
After advancing to the NJCAA Tournament in Hutchinson, Kan., last season, the Rangers are once again expected to be a player on the national scene.
Entering Monday’s contest against the Stephen F. Austin Club Team at 7:30 p.m. at Masters Gymnasium, Kilgore is ranked No. 6 nationally in the preseason NJCAA Top 25.
“I think our guys are excited to play somebody else,” Kilgore head coach Brian Hoberecht said. “We’ve been practicing a while, and it’s just time to kick the season off.
“In the early part of the year, I think it’s big to focus on our identity as a team. We need to come out and establish good habits, establish our style of play and be consistent with our philopshy. We need to be worried about getting better as a team and not just our opponent.”
One of the main reasons for the preseason hype is the addition of Stefan Moody, a transfer from Florida Atlantic. Moody, who averaged 15.7 points and 4.2 rebounds in his lone season at Florida Atlantic, has already made a verbal commitment to play at Ole Miss next season.
“He’s a unique talent,” Hoberecht said of Moody at the Region XIV Media Day in October. “He’s a player who could be in the mix for National Player of the Year. He plays with a great pace and tempo, and he’s got a lot of talent.”
Also added to the Rangers are transfers Bush Wamukota and Jamarcus Weatherspoon.
Wamukota, a 7-footer who transferred from Wiley College, is deciding between Wichita State and St. Louis on where to continue his playing career. Weatherspoon played in the national tournament last season with Connors State.
Hoberecht also said returners Kalif Wright and Chris Gracela will be key players for the Rangers.
“We’ve got a really good group of sophomores,” the coach said. “We’ve also got an exciting group of freshmen. They all have their moments, but they are going to be really good players for us as they get more experience.”
This will be Hoberecht’s sixth season at Kilgore. He led the Rangers to a 27-6 mark last season, the program’s highest win total since the 1964-65 campaign. It was also their first appearance at the national tournament since 1993-94.
Before Monday’s contest, there will be a reception and banner unveiling to commemorate last year’s national tournament qualifying team at 6:30 p.m. in the Devall Student Center. The banner will be unveiled in Masters Gymnasium just before tip-off.
“I think it’s an exciting way for the Kilgore community to enjoy last year’s success and support the new team and see the excitement we bring to the table,” Hoberecht said. “We kick the season off ranked sixth in the country, so there is a lot of excitement. We hope a lot of people come out and check out the talent we have assembled.”
After Monday’s game, Kilgore will host the Kilgore Classic on Friday and Saturday. The Rangers will face Cedar Valley at 7 p.m. Friday and Tomball at 5 p.m. Saturday. Tyler Junior College will also participate in the Kilgore Classic.
(Follow Brandon Ogden on Twitter: @BrandonOSports)