Not even 24 hours after the Skyhawks were eliminated from the Division II NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament in the second round, Fort Lewis College basketball coaches Bob Pietrack and Daniel Steffensen boarded the bus home from Golden and turned their focus to the future.
While the two agreed that replacing FLC All-American guard Joshua Blaylock would be nearly impossible, a recruiting plan was drawn out with the hope of landing a collection of talent that would keep the Skyhawks flying high after two historic seasons in which they were a constant presence in the national top-25 poll.
Slowly but surely, that plan came together.
The final piece – a prized recruit from Illinois – signed with Fort Lewis on Thursday and rounded out what Pietrack thinks will be just as competitive of a roster, if not better, than what fans have come to expect at Whalen Gymnasium in Durango.
“We’re ecstatic to have the six guys who chose Fort Lewis College,” Pietrack said. “We got a little bit of everything with this group. We addressed a number of current needs and secured some long-term holes as well, so we couldn’t be happier.”
Those six guys will blend with plenty of talent returning to the roster, led by senior Rasmus Bach, an All-RMAC First Team and Second Team All-Region talent who averaged 18.2 points and 5.8 rebounds per game last season.
“I think I can safely say that we haven’t had this talented of a group come in since I’ve been here,” Bach said. “We got a lot of experience and those guys are really going to help us stay at the top of the league. It was nice to see a group already committed to the program and I’m glad they all decided to join us.”
Marquel Beasley, 6-6, F, Iowa Western Community CollegeBeasley is a transfer from Iowa Western Community College in Council Bluffs, Iowa. The incoming junior played high school ball with New York Knicks guard Chasson Randle and won a high school state championship at Rock Island High School in Rock Island, Illinois. Iowa Western was 29-5 in Beasley’s first year as the physical forward led the team in field-goal percentage, as he shot 68 percent from the floor. Last year, he came off the bench to average 11 points and six rebounds for a Reivers team that saw each of its starting five players go Division I.
“Marquel has the rare combination of strength, speed, good ball skills and good character,” Pietrack said. “He’s a matchup problem for every team in our league. He had his choice of where he wanted to go, and we’re excited that he chose Durango. He’s a good student, a great teammate and we’re thrilled to have him.”
While the Skyhawks’ winning program was attractive for Beasley, a visit with two other recruits is what sealed the deal for a recruit who could have gone almost anywhere he wanted.
“We just clicked right away, and it felt like a family,” Beasley said. “When you get with a bunch of guys that are all on the same mission, it just feels right. Fort Lewis is a winning program and the players and coaches have that winning mentality. It’s a good fit for me.”
According to Beasley, FLC fans will get a high-energy, team player who plays above the rim and possesses a high IQ. He also has experience on the floor with another new Skyhawk – Collin Weaver.
Collin Weaver, 6-3, G, University of NevadaWeaver is a junior transfer from the University of Nevada. The sharpshooting guard went to Oakland University in Michigan before transferring to Iowa Western, where he got to know Beasley.
“That’s one of my close, good friends,” Weaver said of Beasley. “Nobody understands how good of a player he is and what FLC got.”
The Skyhawks got a talented player in Weaver, too. Though he grew up in Glendale, Arizona, Weaver has RMAC ties and comes from a lineage of RMAC stars. His brother, Kyle, led the 2013-14 Colorado Christian team with an average of 18.3 points per game. His oldest brother, Nick, played Division I ball at Cleveland State before transferring to University of Colorado at Colorado Springs and led the entire league in scoring.
In high school, Weaver averaged 20.4 points at North Pointe Prep and broke the region scoring record with more than 1,400 points. He averaged 9.5 points per game on the same 25-6 team Beasley played on before transferring to Nevada last season where a wrist injury sidelined him for much of the year.
“Collin is a classic RMAC player, and we’ve been recruiting him for awhile,” Pietrack said. “He’s extremely versatile and he really wants to be here, which is exciting to us.”
The feeling is mutual, as Weaver has bought into what Pietrack and Steffensen are all about.
“I couldn’t be happier to play for Coach Pietrack and Coach Steffensen,” he said. “I have a pretty close relationship with Coach (Pietrack), and he’s been recruiting me since I was at Oakland. He’s honest, humble and loyal through the whole process. I think the team coming up here has a legitimate chance at competing for a national title.”
Tyler Pool, 6-2, G, College of Alameda (Alameda, California)Pool was the third guy on the Beasley recruiting trip that helped make all the difference. The Los Angeles area product is a true point-guard and gives the Skyhawks some much-needed depth at the position. He has three years of eligibility left after averaging 15 points and six assists in 11 games at Alameda Junior College and can’t wait to get started at FLC.
“I’m very excited for three years competing with a winning team in Durango,” he said. “The coaches made it feel like a good family environment, and I think that appealed to all three of us. It felt like a brotherhood, and when we got Quel on-board it was spectacular. He’s a special player, and him being with us will make it a lot easier for everyone else.”
Pool will compete for a starting job after the back-court of Joshua Blaylock and Will Morse graduated.
“Pool gives us a pass-first point guard with great experience,” Pietrack said. “He’s got good size for our league and he’s a real two-way player who likes to get everyone else involved. Great fit for our system.”
Mike Ranson, 6-2, G, University of Northern ColoradoRanson averaged a whopping 33 points per game at Pueblo Central High School before committing to Northern Colorado in Greeley. However, rules violations prompted the firing of head coach B.J. Hill and NCAA sanctions reduced the Bears’ scholarships. Ranson was one of the players left out, and Pietrack was excited to offer the sophomore transfer guard a spot at FLC.
“Mike Ranson led the state in scoring and also had a number of options,” Pietrack said. “He has the potential to be one of the top scorers in this league.”
Ranson was a Colorado High School Activities Association Class 4A First Team All-State selection his senior year and felt like it was important to start in his home state.
“I like the Durango area, and I wanted to be playing with one of the best D2 teams in the nation,” he said. “I wanted to go somewhere that really wanted me. Coach Pietrack won the battle.”
Clay Patterson, 6-0 guard, Rio Rancho High School, New MexicoAlong with some high-quality junior college transfers, Pietrack and Steffensen lured two of the region’s top high school players to Fort Lewis.
New Mexico’s 2016 Gatorade High School Player of the Year, Clay Patterson, is expected to be a fixture in the FLC back-court for years to come.
“Clay Patterson has a very high basketball IQ and was on our radar for awhile,” Pietrack said. “We love our point guards to be able to shoot the ball and Clay is a real weapon from beyond the arch.”
The 6-foot guard won a state championship his junior year and took player of the year honors after averaging 20.6 points, 2.5 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 1.8 steals per game. He then averaged 20.6 points, 4.2 assists, 1.7 rebounds, 1.3 steals in his senior year but lost out on back-to-back player of the year honors to one of his future Skyhawk teammates – Brenden Boatwright.
Brenden Boatwright, 6-9, F/C, Carlsbad High School, New MexicoBoatwright averaged a double-double with 21.8 points and 11 rebounds in his senior year at Carlsbad. He was awarded with 2017 Gatorade Player of the Year honors, and Pietrack thinks he could be dominant in the RMAC’s guard-heavy league. Boatwright draws comparisons to FLC legend Alex Herrera of Ignacio.
“Boatwright at 6-9 was by far the best big man out of New Mexico in this class,” Pietrack said. “His ceiling is so high. He’s extremely competitive and plays above the rim. It won’t take long for him to make an impact.”
HHHThe success of two record-breaking seasons under Pietrack and Steffensen caught the eyes of recruits. Perhaps those two seasons were only a glimpse into the kind of program the Skyhawks are building.
“We’re really happy with the whole class in general,” Pietrack said. “We wanted guys who can uphold the high standard of play we’ve set on the court and players the community can be proud of. We got two of the best players from New Mexico, and we’re extremely excited about the group of transfers we got. They hit it off right away, and the guys who were already here did a great job making them feel at home. There’s a long way to go, but we feel like Fort Lewis will be competitive for years to come.”
Herald sports editor John Livingston contributed to this report.jfries@ durangoherald.com