Senior night saw the Fort Lewis College men’s basketball team say farewell to only one player to conclude the 2019-20 season. On the surface, it didn’t appear there was much space for new additions going into the recruiting season. But head coach Bob Pietrack and associate head coach Daniel Steffensen got to work to add five new players.
In reality, the Skyhawks had more scholarships to work with. A year ago, Division I transfer Robbie Berwick was ruled ineligible by the NCAA after he had committed to FLC after injury-riddled stops at Florida State and Colorado State. So, FLC played last season down one scholarship player. Freshman Luke Ptak of England also was released.
Enough scholarship dollars were reallocated for FLC to fill the holes it wanted in an effort to return the Skyhawks to championship contention in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference after they won conference titles in 2016 and 2018 but missed the conference tournament the last two seasons.
Still, the Skyhawks returned the majority of their key players from a season ago. That included leading scorer Riley Farris, an all-region center who averaged 23.9 points and six rebounds per game as a junior last season. Pietrack hopes the new additions – four transfers and one freshman – can help lighten Farris’ load and add more toughness and leadership across the floor.
“For the first time since our RMAC championship team in 2018, we have the luxury of having the majority of our team returning next season. This allowed us to truly focus on our team needs when recruiting this offseason,” Pietrack said. “We were a top-20 team in the two most important scoring categories (83 points per game) and field goal percentage (49%) last season. We have 89% of our scoring back and 85% of our total minutes played. Last season, we were the youngest team in the South Central Region with only one senior on the roster. We will go from being an extremely young team to being an extremely experienced team.
“It’s no secret that we struggled defensively last season, and that’s been our No. 1 focus this offseason. We needed to add versatile players with good size to our roster and feel like we have added some pieces to the puzzle that not only will help us continue to be one of the best offensive teams in the country, but solidify our team on the defensive end.”
Pietrack and Steffensen landed the strong class despite the recruiting dead period mandated by NCAA Division II because of the COVID-19 pandemic. That meant coaches could not travel to see players and recruits could not take visits to campuses. That made the bond formed between coaches and players via telephone the crucial element in commitments.
“COVID-19 really threw us a curve ball in terms of normal recruiting,” Pietrack said. “However, we had done a ton of groundwork before the recruiting shutdown, and we feel like we got the right type of recruits to mix with our 11 returners.”
FLC aims to return to the national tournament in 2021 after making three appearances in Pietrack’s first three seasons as head coach. FLC finished in the top 25 each year from 2016-18 and has averaged 21 wins per season under Pietrack the last five years.
Here is a closer look at the new ’Hawks who will hope to take the court this winter:
Dunnell “Scottie” Stafford A 6-foot-3 guard out of Solano Community College in California by way of Stone Mountain High School in Georgia, Stafford was a stat-sheet stuffer last season.
He averaged 20.9 points on 58.3% shooting from the field and 47.5% from 3-point range. He also averaged 10.1 rebounds and 4.9 assists per game with 2.9 assists per every turnover. He placed 10th in all of California junior colleges in scoring and fifth in rebounding en route to a First Team All-California Bay Conference selection.
“That was last year,” Stafford said. “This is a whole new start. I gotta keep working. I am going to bring a lot of energy to this group, and I know we can do something special this year.”
Solano head coach John Nagle said he believes Stafford, who will be a junior at FLC this season, will make an immediate impact playing his natural position as a wing and shooting guard.
“On the court and off the court, they are getting a complete person and player,” Nagle said. “He is a coach’s dream. For Solano, he was our leading scorer and rebounder. He was instrumental in every facet of our culture and play. Great leadership, character and passion.
“He is special in all regards as a player. Tremendous drive and work ethic, immeasurable toughness and competitive spirit, hardest worker every day, has a great IQ and a great skill set to match. Truly a complete player.”
Stafford said he would like to play professional basketball and felt the coaching of Pietrack and Steffensen would help get him to that level. After not being able to take visits this summer, he felt most comfortable with the FLC staff and said they treated him like family from the start.
“When we first watched Scottie play, he jumped off the screen,” Pietrack said. “Scottie is a two-way player, meaning he takes extreme pride in his game on both sides of the ball. Scottie simply dominated at the junior college level. He was heavily recruited by a ton of really high level D-II schools. We feel he will mesh very well with the returning players, and we except him to have huge impact next season.”
Joey NaccaratoPietrack called Naccarato a must-have player after he first saw him play. The 6-5 guard out of North Idaho Junior College was the captain of a team that went 28-1 overall and 16-0 in conference play last season while he averaged 9.5 points and 6.6 rebounds per game.
Naccarato started his college basketball career at the Division I level at UMass Lowell and played in 13 games as a freshman out of Coeur d’Alene High School in Idaho. He would receive a medical redshirt his sophomore season before he transferred to the junior college in his home state.
“I think I am going to bring experience and leadership,” Naccarato said. “This is my third school in three years. I’ve been around the loop from D-I to JUCO. I have experience, and I love to win. I’m a competitor with a grind-it-out personality. Hopefully, I can bring some toughness to this team along with some versatility.”
Naccarato was disappointed to not get to play in the playoffs last season after the coronavirus pandemic shut down the season. The FLC coaches had hoped to travel to see him play, too. With recruiting reduced to phone conversations, Naccarato knew FLC was the right fit.
“I got a good feel for Coach P. He is a stand-up guy,” Naccarato said. “The team has a lot of talent coming back this year, and I wanted to go to a program where I think we have a great shot of winning and has a good environment. The two main reasons I am going there is for coaching and I like to win.”
Pietrack said Naccarato will immediately make the team better from the first day of practice this fall after he was named an First Team All Defensive player in the Northwest Athletic Conference last season.
“We really recruited Joey hard. There was no way we were going to let him go anywhere else but FLC,” Pietrack said. “He can play multiple positions, is very skilled and is as competitive as a player as you will find. Joey had a great sophomore season for one of the best junior college teams in the country. Joey’s all-around skill set will be very valuable to our program the next two years.”
Tyler KinghornThe final commitment of the 2020 class came from Kinghorn, a 6-foot-6 forward out of Hill Junior College in Texas by way of Billings, Montana. With an average of 10 points and five rebounds per game, Kinghorn finished the season with seven consecutive games of double-digit scoring.
Defense is Kinghorn’s biggest strength, as he was routinely tasked with guarding his opponent’s best offensive player.
“I’m an athlete, and I am tough,” Kinghorn said. “I just love competing. The last two years at JUCO, I learned you have to compete and be tough night in and night out. Whatever the team needs me to do to win games, that’s what I am going to do.”
Pietrack was happy to add Kinghorn to the Skyhawks’ front court along with Farris and juniors Brenden Boatwright and Brendan La Rose.
“Saying we are excited to add Tyler to our roster would be a major understatement,” Pietrack said. “Tyler is a player we coveted early in the recruiting process. At 6-6, Tyler is extremely athletic, can run like a deer and finishes everything above the rim. His junior college coaches loved his toughness, work ethic and his ability to guard every position on the court. He averaged 10 points and five rebounds per game in arguably the toughest junior college region in the country. He is a tough son of a gun.”
Kinghorn said his family had previously visited Durango and told him how beautiful it was, so he had an idea about his future surroundings though he was not able to take a visit. Now, he is eager to get to work.
“I have already seen most of the players on the team. We are one of the best scoring teams in the country,” he said. “I feel like if we get stronger in some areas, we can make a deep run this year. I’m excited to get back on the court and win games.”
Eric JamermanNo stranger to the conference, Jamerman is back in the RMAC after one year away.
A 6-2 guard out of Casper Junior College in Wyoming, Jamerman spent his first season at Chadron State and averaged 4.8 points per game. He scored 17 points against FLC in 2018 on a 6-of-12 shooting performance, including 4-of-8 from 3-point range.
“We played against him and admired how hard he played and loved the fact that he could really shoot the ball,” Pietrack said. “Our program has always been known for how well we score, and adding another weapon like Eric from the outside was something we jumped on.”
Jamerman said he didn’t remember much about his big game against FLC in 2018, but he did remember the post game handshake line.
“After the game, I remember talking to Coach P. He told me he thought I was going to be a great player and all this good stuff,” Jamerman said. “Honestly, that stuck with me. It’s amazing how things work out, and now I am coming to play for him.”
The product of Douglas, Wyoming, returned to his home state for one year of junior college with Casper, where he averaged 4.2 points and 11.8 minutes per game. Pietrack said he will make a strong rotational player in the RMAC.
“Eric is an extremely high character, hard working individual that can really shoot it and defend,” said Casper head coach Shaun Gutting. “He is a really smart player who has a great feel for the game as well as a fantastic teammate.”
Jamerman said he struggled a bit at times last season but felt the experience of being surrounded by and playing against high-level players has him ready for his RMAC return. His goal is to be a leader on the court and to make shots.
“It became quite apparent during the recruiting process that Eric really wanted to be part of what we have built here at Fort Lewis and was excited about the opportunity to be part of a tradition rich program,” Pietrack said. “We are thrilled to add Eric to our team and look forward to coaching him the next two seasons.”
Ra’Shjon MartinezThe lone freshman of the class is a good one for FLC. Martinez will come to FLC out of Dream City Christian in Arizona as one of the top defensive guards from the entire Southwest.
“We absolutely got a steal in signing Ra’Shjon Martinez,” Pietrack said. “Dream City is one of the best prep schools in the western United States, and Ra’Shjon was a starter and defensive captain for them all season. We loved the way the Ra’Shjon plays and are incredibly excited to see him grow as a player the next four years.”
Martinez, the brother of UNLV center Jhaylon Martinez, signed with the Skyhawks in December. The 6-3 guard could compete for playing time right away and will be part of a strong core of young guards with Akuel Kot and Junior Garbrah, who each played significant minutes as freshmen last year.
“Those two guys can teach me the ways of how everything works,” Martinez said. “They had a huge impact last year. Being able to play with each other through the years, we can play off each other and really play well with each other.”
Pietrack called Martinez a relentless player with an outstanding motor. And, with his length, he will be able to guard multiple positions.
“I’m excited to create a bond with the team on and off the court,” Martinez said. “Being the only freshman coming in, I will have the older guys to look up to. I’m ready to play and think we can beat a lot of teams in our conference this year with the talent coming back and all the pieces coming in. If everyone plays their role and the right way, we can be a really good team.”