Richland College’s basketball team, which is the defending NJCAA Division III national champions, will host Southwest Adventist University at 7 p.m. tonight.

Returning this year from last year’s squad are only two players who have game-time experience: Thedford Simmons and Deionta Mitchell. This year’s team also has three red-shirt players from last season.

“So far the biggest challenge is the inexperience that we have. We have 13 new guys and a total of three guys that played college basketball last year,” head coach Jon Felment said. “The level of mental toughness that it takes to play at this level is very high. Right now, these guys are used to playing high school basketball where they might have been the best player on their team or district. Once the season starts, I think our biggest challenge will be handling the adversity that will come with our schedule.”

The T-Ducks will also have the challenge of their opponents playing their best game every outing, considering Richland is the defending national champions.

According to Felment, the T-Ducks’ schedule will be trying at times this season, especially in November when 10 of their 11 games are against NJCAA Division I teams.

“It’s really hard not to compare last year’s team to this year’s team. Nine sophomores last year versus 14 freshmen this year,” Felment said. “I think the biggest thing this group could learn from last year’s group is to be mentally tough, intense and play with passion.”

Last year’s group, Felment added, was not concerned about wins against non-conference schools, but they were ready in January, which is when everything counts. 

“To me, that will be the biggest difference in this year’s team, and if they take anything from last year’s success it will be sticking together when times are bad,” Felment said, adding that this team is very skilled at all positions.  “It really only matters what happens from January to March that makes our season.” 

The T-Ducks enter the season ranked No. 19 among NJCAA Division III teams.