Peninsula’s Roosevelt Williams Jr., right, tries to push past Bellevue’s Nate Johnson on Saturday evening on the Pirate home court. (Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News)

Peninsula’s Roosevelt Williams Jr., right, tries to push past Bellevue’s Nate Johnson on Saturday evening on the Pirate home court. (Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News)

COLLEGE BASKETBALL PREVIEW: Peninsula men turn a page with new team

PORT ANGELES — The Peninsula College men’s basketball team has gotten past the effects of the COVID pandemic, meaning like many junior college programs, the team is seeing a big turnover this year.

The Pirates had a few players stick around an extra year and even had a couple of players on the team for three years due to the pandemic. Because sports were largely shut down for a year, many athletes were given an extra year of eligibility.

The effects of that extra year are gone this season, with Peninsula fielding almost an entirely new team in 2022-23.

“We moved a lot guys on this year,” said coach Donald Rollman. “This is the first time in three years we’ve had this new of a group.”

The Pirates bring back three main players. Last year’s point guard Roosevelt Williams Jr., a Perth, Australia, native, returns. He averaged 9.4 points and 3.0 assists last year as a starter.

Also returning is Mikey Medlock Jr. (6-foot-4) from Las Vegas. He came off the bench last season and averaged 6.9 points a game. Jase McCullough from North Pole, Alaska, is also back. He averaged 2.8 points a game last year. D’Ante Dean (6-foot-6) from Nassau, Bahamas, and his 3.6 points and 2.9 rebounds a game is back.

Rollman said Williams and Medlock will be among the leaders on the team.

“There’s a lot on their shoulders to hold down our culture,” Rollman said.

The Pirates, who went 16-11 last year and made the NWAC tournament, will have to find a way to replace two huge players — Jaylin Reed and Isaiah Sampson. Reed averaged 20.6 points and 7.2 rebounds last year while Sampson averaged 11.8 points and 7.4 rebounds. Reed and Sampson are now playing at Adams State University in Colorado.

Rollman said the Pirates have some very athletic and big players who can fill their shoes.

He said incoming freshman Ese Onakpoma, a 6-foot-4 guard from Naugatuak, Conn., is “maybe the best athlete we’ve ever had here. Ese is on a different level with his athleticism. He is a really exciting player to watch.”

Javon Ervin from Ingraham High School is another player to keep an eye on. “He will finish a lot of games for us,” Rollman said.

Max D’Amato is another Australian player from Melbourne. He is a 6-foot-6 forward and has some similarities to another Australian player, Trent Warren, a good outside shooting forward who helped lead the Pirates to the NWAC championship game a few years ago.

“Max is better in the post than Trent. He’s 6-6 and 230 pounds,” Rollman said. But he can also shoot from outside.

“His shooting will be a separator,” Rollman said.

Another newcomer will be a familiar name to Port Angeles High School basketball fans — 6-foot-5 Aiden Olmstead, who has been a big part of some tough North Kitsap teams that have battled with the Roughriders over the past few years. Olmstead was a second team All-Olympic League player last year.

“He’s still adjusting to the college game. We have a lot of freshmen who will need to make an impact and he’s one of them,” Rollman said.

Also on the team is sophomore Gary Johnson, a former Port Angeles Roughrider.

Rollman expects this to be a different kind of team from past years.

“With Isaiah, we were able to play big and pound the ball inside. We don’t have that this year. What we have is a whole lot of versatile fours and fives, guys like [6-foot-6] Malik Jackson,” Rollman said.

In fact, no player on the Pirates is officially listed as a center. The team has eight players between 6-foot-4 and 6-foot-7 at the guard and forward positions.

Rollman expects the North Region to be the toughest in the NWAC with pretty much every team but Whatcom being solid. “We almost had two North teams [Bellevue and Olympic] playing the NWAC championship,” Rollman said.

Peninsula went 8-6 in region last year. He likes the team’s chances to make another postseason berth.

“We may take some lumps, but if we do, it’ll be early,” Rollman said.

The Pirates’ regular season schedule begins with a pair of games at Tacoma Community College this weekend. The men will play Tacoma at 8 p.m. Friday and Green River at 2 p.m. Saturday.

The Pirates’ first home game is Dec. 3 against Lane and they begin North Region play on Jan. 11 against Bellevue.

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