The town of Scottsbluff, Neb., population around 15,000, is nestled in Western Nebraska near the borders of Wyoming and Colorado. It’s the last place you would expect to find a college basketball team full of Mormons.
Meet head coach Russell Beck and the Western Nebraska Community College Cougars.
Beck is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The American Fork native gained experience coaching at Dixie State College, Salt Lake Community College, the College of Southern Idaho and Southern Utah before he was hired as the head coach at WNCC in 2009. Since then Beck has sought to fill his program with LDS athletes, although not exclusively. He wants good basketball players, but he also wants players with work ethic, character and an unselfish, winning attitude.
This strategy has worked for Beck. This season the Cougars finished with a record of 26-7 and were ranked in the NJCAA’s top 25. Several players have been recruited to play for Division I programs.
The team features five returned missionaries, one planning to serve a mission, and one recent convert. The team members have participated in several community activities and enjoy sharing a drug-free message at local elementary schools.
The following information was emailed to me from Charity Beck, coach Beck’s wife. The Latter-day Saints on the team include:
- Coach Beck served a mission to Independence, Mo. He also serves in the Scottsbluff Ward young men’s presidency as first counselor.
- Yahosh Bonner, an assistant coach from Mesa, Ariz., served a mission in Tampa, Fla., mission. Bonner serves in the ward as a Sunday school teacher.
- Allen Beck, a 6-foot-5 redshirt freshman forward from Alpine, Utah, served in the Nashville, Tenn., mission. He also serves as the ward’s deacon’s quorum advisor.
- Marcus Johnson, a 6-foot-10 freshman center from Grantsville, Utah, served a mission in Toronto, Canada. He serves as the ward mission leader.
- Brady Mason, a 6-foot-1 sophomore guard from American Fork, Utah, served in the Slovenia Croatia mission.
- Raul Delgado, a 6-foot-2 sophomore guard from Mapleton, Utah, and Chihuahua, Mexico, is a recent convert to the LDS Church.
- Mason Smith, a 6-foot-5 freshman forward from Alpine, Utah, is in the process of submitting his mission papers.
Moving along, another LDS returned missionary recently committed to play Division I basketball. This past season, Travis Wilkins was a 6-foot-3 freshman guard at Snow College. He recently committed to play for the Southern Illinois Salukis. Wilkins was the subject of a couple of features in The Southern.com.
Kaitlin Bogle, a 5-foot-10 junior forward from Crocker, Mo., averaged 4.3 points and 2.3 rebounds for the Columbia Lady Cougars this past season. She was recently honored with a selection to the academic all-American team. Bogle played the 2009-2010 season at Utah Valley University.
In wrestling news, Matt Brown is a freshman at Penn State. Brown served an LDS mission in Angola and Mozambique.
In college baseball news, Garrett Nash is playing center field for Oregon State. Nash served an LDS mission in Tacoma, Wash.