Mar 5, 2024 | By: Miles Walker

CLC Men’s Basketball Aims to Win Both On and Off the Court

Central Lakes College men’s basketball has established a winning culture, posting an above-.500 record in each of the last 27 seasons, while making the Minnesota State Tournament in all but one year during that stretch. And behind it all is Head Coach Jim Russell, who this season became the first Vietnamese head coach to eclipse 500 wins.

When Coach Russell took over the helm for CLC men’s basketball, after thanking his mentors, he then turned his attention to his first goal – changing the culture within the building.

“This [gymnasium] floor was a rubber floor and football, baseball, everybody was in here and … we had to change the environment of it all,” said Russell. “We had to make sure we understood that men’s basketball has some value to it.”

And after 27 years, seven Minnesota college athletic conference titles, and three NJCAA national tournament appearances, it’s safe to say he’s fulfilled that dream.

“I always tell people, I said, ‘This is kind of like my North Carolina or my Duke.’ You know, build it from scratch,” explained Russell. “There’s some of the great history here. But being here this long and seeing players go through, coaching staff go through and seeing other players now coaching and seeing other coaches going on coaching somewhere else. It says a lot about this program, a lot of pride.”

What also speaks volumes about the program is seeing former players return to coach alongside Russell.

“His love for the game – he brings that out of every player here on the court,” said assistant coach George Washington. “You know, he brings out the best in them and he pushes them to be the best, not only on the court, but off the court.”

More than any accolade earned on the court, it’s what Coach Russell does off the court for CLC men’s basketball that’s had the greatest impact.

“Sometimes you need that support, sometimes you need that support system,” said CLC men’s basketball guard Quamar Gresham. “And me a lot, I needed that. And he actually gave me that. That’s why I really love that man. He really do be bringing – bring a joy to us.”

And the joy he brings his players enables them to put their best foot forward.

“My favorite part about him is that he always cares for someone. You know, someone has something going wrong, he make sure he gets hold of them, gives them a track. You know, he checks them every single time. And that’s why I think this team just kind of bonds the best,” said guard/forward Broden Fleisher. “You know, he may look mad, but he just wants to win, too, just like us.”

At the end of the day, all Coach Russell strives to do is build great men.

“If they can make the play on the court, they can make the play off the court,” said Russell. “Name of a player that became All-American – name a player that’s all-conference. Those are things. And then a guy that graduate a four year degree is like, okay, I couldn’t ask for anything better than that. And what a reward. As a coach, you get to see that that’s the 500. That’s why it’s about.”

The Raiders made it back to the NJCAA Region 13 Tournament, but fell in the semifinals to Riverland Community College this past Saturday. They finished 20-11 overall and second in their conference.

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