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Hahn has recruited Riverland into MCAC men's basketball power

Since the arrival of Derek Hahn seven years ago, the Riverland men’s basketball team has been on the rise. The Blue Devils are currently ranked No. 6 in the nation among Division III teams.

RCTC, Riverland men’s basketball
Riverland’s Lajarrion Spinks (24) goes up for a shot during a men’s basketball game against RCTC on Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2022, at RCTC’s Regional Sports Center in Rochester, Minnesota. Spinks, who hails from Louisiana, has helped Riverland post a 14-1 record this season and earn the No. 6 spot in the nation among Division III men's junior college teams.
Traci Westcott / Post Bulletin
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Riverland Community College is no longer an afterthought in junior college men’s basketball.

There was a time when the Austin-based Blue Devils struggled to play with the top teams in the Minnesota College Athletic Conference. But that seems like a long time ago. Coach Derek Hahn has turned the team around and built a winning culture at Riverland over his seven-year tenure. In his first season of 2015-6, the Blue Devils went 10-17. But over the past six years Riverland has compiled a stellar 119-32 record.

“We’ve been blessed with talent,” Hahn said. “The amount of talent we have on our roster on a yearly basis is what makes us win. I’m not one of those coaches who thinks it’s me or my assistant or anything like that.”

The Blue Devils’ talent was on display on Wednesday during a hard-fought 62-56 victory over Rochester Community and Technical College. Both teams entered the game nationally ranked among Division III junior college men’s teams, Riverland at No. 6 and RCTC at No. 7.

“That’s a good outfit,” RCTC coach Brian LaPlante said of Riverland.

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The Blue Devils have been chasing RCTC over the years. LaPlante, who won his 500th career game earlier this season, has guided the Yellowjackets to seven D-III NJCAA national berths and a trio of runner-up finishes. That’s the dream for the Riverland squad and the Blue Devils are on the right track.

“When I first came into the conference as an assistant, I saw what the good teams had,” Hahn said. “They had depth and they had athletes. So we made an attempt to get that on our roster. We like our team, I think we have all the facets.”

With a talented a deep team, Riverland is off to a 14-1 start this season and the Blue Devils are chasing that elusive national berth. They were one victory away from a national berth in both 2017 and 2019.

“The goal is to go to regionals first and then go to nationals,” Riverland guard Cleveland Bedgood said.

Bedgood is one of six Riverland players on the roster who hail from Florida.

RCTC, Riverland men’s basketball
RCTC’s Nick Pepin (4) and Riverland’s Cleveland Bedgood (3) battle for a loose ball during a men’s basketball game on Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2022, at RCTC’s Regional Sports Center in Rochester, Minnesota. Bedgood has helped Riverland post a 14-1 record this season and earn the No. 6 spot in the nation among Division III men's junior college teams.
Traci Westcott / Post Bulletin

“Recruiting at the D-III JUCO level is a grind,” Hahn said. “You’ve got to keep building the relationship because at the end of the day, our kids have something to prove. Because they weren’t offered scholarships. A lot of teams told them ‘No, you’re not good enough.’ And these kids can play.”

“I didn’t get too many opportunities out of high school,” Bedgood admitted. “And coach Hahn, he brought me in and gave me a chance and I’ve been sticking with him ever since. You have to prove yourself because a lot of people overlook you.”

Hahn said that over the years he has built contacts all over the country. He has had years when his roster has consisted mostly of players from Minnesota and other seasons, like now, where most come from all parts of the country. Besides the half dozen players from Florida, this year’s Riverland team features four from Nebraska and one each from Georgia, Louisiana and Puerto Rico among other places.

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“I don’t care where they come from, if they can play, we want them,” Hahn said. “I think the biggest thing for us is that we’ve had some success recently. We’ve started becoming a nationally ranked program so kids want to go to that.”

“Before I came to Riverland, it was already a winning organization,” Bedgood said. “So we just kept feeding into it to keep going, to keep winning.”

Hahn said another great way to draw in talented players is to have past players move on to play at four-year schools. That shows incoming players they have a chance to play at the next level if they are successful. Hahn said a number of former Riverland standouts are currently playing at the four-year level. He noted academics is often the biggest issue of players being able to move on.

“That’s what these kids are thriving for,” Hahn said. “They want a chance to play once their time is done here. We tell them they have to buy into our program while they’re here, but there’s bigger basketball ahead of them and that’s what these kids are hungry for.”

Related Topics: MEN'S BASKETBALLAUSTIN
Guy N. Limbeck is a Rochester native who has been working at a daily newspaper since 1981. He has worked at the Post Bulletin since 1999. Readers can reach Guy at 507-285-7724 or glimbeck@postbulletin.com.
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