By Debby Abe
The Men’s Basketball Raiders nudged closer to a division title Wednesday night, and propelled Coach Bill Mendelson to his 300th career win.
The Raiders won 86 to 68 over the Clark College Penguins at Pierce College Fort Steilacoom. Though they have two more league games, the Raiders have at least tied for first place in the Western Division of the Northwest Athletic Association of Community Colleges (NWAACC), Mendelson said.
The top finisher gets the top seed in the conference playoffs.
Mendelson said he knew the significance of the victory for the team Wednesday night, but had no idea of the personal milestone.
As confetti showered down, Mendelson recalled Thursday, “I thought they were shooting confetti cause we got first in the league. Then Duncan (Stevenson, Pierce College athletic director) announced on the loudspeaker that I had 300 wins.”
Mendelson, 60, downplayed his role in accumulating the wins. “If you coach awhile, you’re going to have the opportunity to get a lot of victories … If there’s any acknowledgements, it’s because of the many, many great players that have come through our program.”
Mendelson is in his 10th year as head coach of the Raider Men’s Basketball program. He’s also the most winning coach in the program’s 45-year history, chalking up 168 wins and 113 losses, Stevenson said. He twice led the Raiders to the NWAACC Championship game, resulting in second place finishes in 2005 and 2011.
Altogether, he’s coached college basketball for 18 years, including eight seasons at South Puget Sound Community College. His overall collegiate coaching record is 300 wins and 216 losses, a .581 winning percentage, Stevenson said. He’s also in his 36th year at North Thurston High School, where he teaches physical education and has coached a variety of sports.
Mendelson said coaching at the junior college level has special challenges.
Athletes can only play for two years at two-year colleges. Many of them had hoped to play at universities in Division I or II programs, and they still have that goal.
“You have so many kids from different programs that have to buy in to one system, and they have to do it in a hurry. You have a big turnover every year,” Mendelson said. “That makes it challenging to have team chemistry.”
But there are also rewards.
“We’ve got lots of players who move on to four-year schools and get scholarships.
That’s why kids go to junior college, to work on grades and improve their game.”
This year’s Raider team, he said, is one of the best in the program’s history. The team is 13 – 1 in the West Division, with an overall record of 21 – 4, and ranked number 2 in the latest NWAACC coaches poll, Stevenson said.
A win over Green River on Saturday or Lower Columbia on Feb. 23 will give the Raiders their fourth division title in the program’s history.
The most telling statistic: 494 assists as of Wednesday night. That’s about 150 more than the second-highest team in assists, Tacoma Community College, Mendelson said.
“That shows real good team work,” he said of the Raiders. “They are very talented, very quick and they share the ball.”
He worries about player injuries, but has high hopes for this year’s playoffs. Compared to the Raider squad that took second in the conference two years ago, he said, “this is probably a more talented team when you look at all 12 guys, from top to bottom.”