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Fort Lewis men’s basketball team sees massive roster turnover after historic season

Skyhawks only return three players from last year
Sekou Dembele of Fort Lewis College looks up for a shot while playing Northern New Mexico at FLC last year. Dembele is one of three returning players on this season’s Fort Lewis squad. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

Roster turnover is inevitable these days in college basketball with Name, Image and Likeness (NIL) and players being able to transfer and play right away – even after winning a program-record 29 games like the Fort Lewis men’s basketball team did last season.

The Skyhawks return only three players from last year’s historic squad that won a share of the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference regular-season title and won the RMAC tournament title.

Akuel Kot was a huge reason for the Skyhawks’ success last season. The 6-foot-2 guard averaged 24.3 points per game, the fourth-best mark in all of NCAA Division II basketball.

But after ripping nets in the RMAC, Kot transferred to Wyoming.

“We had hoped to keep him to be completely transparent,” Skyhawks coach Bob Pietrack said. “But we’re certainly rooting for him, love him and are very grateful for everything Akuel did for us.”

The Skyhawks also lost second-leading scorer JaQuaylon Mays and third-leading scorer Brendan Boatwright to graduation, as well as senior starters Brendan La Rose and Dunnell Stafford.

Despite losing that core group, Pietrack saw an upside.

“Because of the portal, it was much easier to reload, especially off 29 wins,” he said.

Reload the Skyhawks did.

Pietrack grabbed numerous talented players out of the transfer portal. Senior guard Malik Whitaker and junior guard Samier Kinsler transferred to the Skyhawks after being all-league players at West Virginia State.

Junior forward Isaiah Thompson transferred from CSU Pueblo after averaging 11.9 points and 9.6 rebounds per game, and junior guard Tristan Hurdle transferred from CSU Pueblo as well after missing last season with an injury.

Junior forward Brayden Carter transfers in from Regis University after averaging 11.7 points and 5.2 rebounds last year. Redshirt sophomore Amondo Miller Jr. transfers in from Colorado where he spent two seasons at the Division I level.

“Just in those five transfers, we have five Division II transfers that have a wealth of experience,” Pietrack said. “Then a kid like Amondo Miller coming in from CU that out of high school, any program in the RMAC would have done back flips for.”

Pietrack was also excited when talking about junior guard Jhei-R Jones. He transferred to Fort Lewis from Kaskaskia College after shooting a National Junior College Athletic Association-best 49.6% from 3-point range last season.

“That kid’s a stud,” Pietrack said.

On top of that influx of talent, junior guard Obi Agbim is back after averaging 10.1 points a game last year. Senior center Sekou Dembele also returns after coming off the bench last season, averaging 4 points a game and 4.7 rebounds per game. Senior guard and 2023-24 captain Junior Garbrah returns after averaging 7.5 points per game.

“The experience of going through the league last year and the expectation in playing with a target on our back those guys understand,” Pietrack said about the three returners. “We take those guys and we mix in as talented of a recruiting class our league has.”

Although Fort Lewis scored 84 points per game last season, which ranked 18th in all of Division II, Pietrack thinks this year’s squad can take on a new identity.

“Our team this year has the chance to be the best defensive team in my nine seasons,” Pietrack said. “We have a chance to be a very good defensive team, so I don’t know if the points will be as high. I still think we’re going to score but we’ve been real focused on keeping the other team from scoring.”

Pietrack is excited about the size his team’s wings and centers will provide. He also expects his guards to play defense on all 94 feet of the court to disrupt the other teams’ rhythm offensively.

Pietrack’s optimistic after seeing his players compete hard in practice, and he’s also fond of the character of this group.

Will this group uphold the Fort Lewis standard Pietrack talked about at Skyhawks Madness? The answer won’t have anything to do with wins and losses.

“The biggest standard for us is how we compete,” Pietrack said. “We have a long history of competing … we’re going to compete at what we call a championship level. That’s our standard. We don’t set goals throughout the year. We want to compete at a championship standard. If we do that then we put ourselves in a position to play meaningful games in March.”


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