Ironmen need lift from new talent

by Tom Coombe

It’s a given that in community college basketball, freshmen are counted on to contribute immediately.<BR><BR>But the Vermilion Ironmen must rely heavily on first-year players during the 2004-2005 campaign, which starts Friday night at home against Itasca.<BR><BR>The Vermilion team that takes the floor will bear little resemblance to the squad that finished second in the state a year ago.<BR><BR>Gone are several sophomores who contributed to a 21-6 slate last year, and injuries have taken another chunk out of the Vermilion roster.<BR><BR>“We’re a little shy on depth, but I think we’ll be OK,” said VCC Head Coach Paul McDonald, who begins his 15th season at the helm. “I’m impressed with the group, with the way all of them compete.”<BR><BR>The only starter back for Vermilion is a good one - sophomore point guard Aaron Overby.<BR><BR>The Cleveland native directed the VCC offense a year ago, averaging over 10 points per game and placing second in the state in assists.<BR><BR>“We’re counting on him major for leadership,” said McDonald.<BR><BR>The Ironmen have two other sophomores.<BR><BR>Nate Donald, a 6-5 forward from Mabel, Minn., is back after seeing time as a reserve a year ago.<BR><BR>Vermilion could get a boost from 6-4 Gavin Erickson. He was an all-state high school player at Esko and transferred in last winter.<BR><BR>After that, McDonald will turn to the freshmen.<BR><BR>A deep recruiting class has some local flavor, including 5-10 guard Tony Carlson of Ely.<BR><BR>Carlson will be a reserve, but another local name already in the mix for playing time is Shea Amic, an athletic 6-3 swingman from Chisholm.<BR><BR>Guards Anthony Anderson (6-0, Cleveland) and Zach Smith (6-2, Nevis) have been impressive early on, and Vermilion will look for help down low from Jameel Koonce, a 6-5 forward from Cleveland.<BR><BR>The Ironmen also expect good things from Wendell Hairston, a 6-0 guard from Minnetonka. He’s currently sidelined by injury but is expected to return soon.<BR><BR>“He’s a very good defender,” McDonald said of Hairston.<BR><BR>Other first-year players battling for court time are Renaldo Gaskins (6-3, Camden, S.C.), George Madden (6-5, Toronto) and Robert Lewis (6-3, Cleveland).<BR><BR>The Ironmen opened practice in mid-October and have already made strides.<BR><BR>“We’re not very big inside, but I don’t know who else is, either,” said McDonald. “Our perimeter people are pretty good. We shoot the ball well enough and we can definitely go to the basket. The question is are we going to rebound well enough.”<BR><BR>According to McDonald, who has guided VCC to a 138-37 record and three national tournament appearances in the last six years, the Ironmen have the talent and tools to contend in the Minnesota Community College Conference’s Northern Division.<BR><BR>VCC has already scrimmaged Mesabi and St. Scholastica, and over the weekend the Ironmen held their annual alumni game in a final tune-up for this week’s home tournament.<BR><BR>The Ironmen meet Itasca in one first-round game while Gogebic and Rainy River square off in the other semifinal.<BR><BR>The tournament concludes Saturday with the third-place game (noon) and the championship tilt (4 p.m.).<BR><BR>Nonconference play continues through December, with Northern Division action opening in mid-January.