This past season the connection between the Southwest Mississippi Community College men’s basketball team and the state of Minnesota was strong. Not only is head coach Bryan Bender from the North Star State, but so were two sophomores: guard Goodnews Kpegeol and student assistant Adreon Wadlington.
And now Kpegeol and Wadlington will be headed back north after both recently signed on with four-year schools in the Midwest.
Kpegeol is headed to Valparaiso in Indiana while Wadlington will suit up for the Lancers at Mount Marty College in South Dakota.
Kpegeol chose the Crusaders over offers from several other schools, including Eastern Michigan, South Dakota, Buffalo and Coastal Carolina.
“I just liked how the coaches were and I liked how open they were with me,” he said. “It just felt like the best fit for me. They told me what they wanted from me and what they wanted to do and it is what I wanted.”
The journey from the state of Minnesota to Valparaiso has been a bit of a challenge for Kpegeol. He spent his freshman season at Kansas State, where he didn’t get much playing time. In his lone season at SMCC, he averaged 12 points, 5.8 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game.
“My time in Summit has been pretty good,” he said. “Coach Bryan Bender really helped me a lot, taught me a lot of things. “He really was another father figure. He made sure I was on top of my stuff because I had a lot of hours, so I had a lot of classes.”
Another factor that Kpegeol enjoyed during his time at SMCC was the fan support.
“Everybody came and showed love,” he said. “Even after the game, everybody showed love. I had a chiropractor that I go to and he had a newspaper picture of me on his wall.”
And even though Kpegeol improved his game greatly, Coach Bender believes that he made greater strides off the court than he did on.
“Goodnews, where he grew up was off the floor,” he said.“He went to a high major which won the Big 12 and was like a practice player on scholarship and had some things that were holding him back. He came to Southwest and there was some comfort there. One thing he needed to do was graduate, and here at Southwest we have unbelievable faculty and staff and a president that works with our kids. And they were able to work with him and made sure that he was able to graduate.”
For Wadlington — who is the best friend of Kpegeol — his lone year in Summit was very important to him despite not getting any playing time.
He transferred from a Division II junior college in Minnesota, where he was an All-American and averaged 19 points per game.
For his sophomore season he was going to transfer to a Division I junior college, but transferred back to his original school, where he ran into some issues with his grades.
Wadlington made the decision to transfer once again, this time to SMCC to better his grades and be near some family members.
He was a student assistant on the team and even though he didn’t play in any games, he still practiced with his teammates, continuing to better himself for when his next opportunity presented itself.
Wadlington said the decision to sign with the Lancers wasn’t difficult.
“It was kind of an easy decision for me because I’ve known the coach since I was in high school, so we built a connection throughout the past couple of years,” he said. “Being at Southwest and being able to get better in the classroom; just sitting back and just watching the game from a different perspective, I learned a lot. I feltlike Mount Marty is the best situation for me.”
Wadlington continues to strive for his goal of going pro one day, and he believes playing at Mount Marty will help him achieve that.
“When I go to Mount Marty, I am just going to go there and do all the right things on and off the floor, and work hard every day to where I want to be,” he said.
He adds that the loyalty that Mt. Marty head coach Todd Lorenson showed him early on played a major role in his decision.
“That really opened up my eyes to what type of coach he is and how he does things,” Wadlington said. “He has a winning mentality and when someone wants you like that to be in their program and to be able to excel, it really made it easy for me to buy in to what he had.”
Bender is happy to see Wadlington continue his career after not playing this year.
“He basically rejuvenated himself,” he said. “There was an NAIA (school) that has always wanted him so he came here to fix his grades."