BSC

BSC

Injuries come baked into the cake for all sports teams.

But this season, for the Bismarck State College men's basketball team, things have been a bit extreme.

The injuries started early, and have continued often, unfortunately, for Buster Gilliss' Mystics. The mounting list includes: torn ACL, torn MCL, knee tendinitis, broken foot, dislocated shoulder, spleen injury and a concussion.

"You couldn't write a script like that ... you wouldn't want to," said Gilliss, also BSC's athletic director. "I've never seen anything like it. You feel bad for those kids more than anything else."

Recently, the list of the walking wounded grew so great reinforcements had to be summoned.

Zac Martin, Luke Leingang and Alex Horner -- Bismarck natives all, and baseball players at BSC -- volunteered their services when the Mystics had just seven players to take to a tournament in Wyoming.

Gilliss had recruited Martin, an all-state performer at Shiloh Christian, and Leingang, who played at Century with Horner. All three now are making contributions for the Mystics.

"Those three guys approached me and asked if we needed bodies just for practice. They were just willing to help us out, which tells you what kind of kids they are," Gilliss said. "They've gradually started earning minutes for us and have done a good job."

Injuries have hit the Mystics' starting lineup hard.

Minot's Jesse Roberts (spleen) and Grant Kohlus (MCL) were key returning veterans. Before the season even began, Kiton Ademeso from Nigeria was lost with a torn ACL. Roberts and Kohlus are unlikely to play again this season.

Jared Walter was to be a key cog in the paint along with Roberts, but the 6-foot-9 sophomore from Shiloh suffered a dislocated shoulder, an injury which Gillis called "bad."

On the bright side, Walters is working toward a potential return. Gilliss called Walters the "John Wayne of the group" for his tireless efforts to get back on the court.

Still, despite the seemingly endless series of afflictions, the Mystics have hung in there. Heading into tonight's Mon-Dak home opener against 15-1 Dakota College of Bottineau at 7:30 p.m., BSC is 1-0 in the conference and 7-9 overall.

"When you have a situation like this, it gives other guys an opportunity to get more playing time," Gilliss said. "Some guys that were going to be coming off the bench have had to play a larger role and we've had some guys step up and that's promising for next year too."

At the top of the list have been freshmen Austin Slaughter and Tronis McKay.

Slaughter is putting up All-American numbers. The 6-foot-7 freshman from Grand Forks is averaging 19.1 points and 8.9 rebounds while playing in all 16 games.

"He's really come in and made the most of the opportunity," Gilliss said. "He's done a good job on both ends. He's got a lot of ability ... and it helps to be 6-7 and athletic."

He's also capable of performing without all the essentials, apparently.

"He lost his shoe up in Devils Lake. I look out there and he's slipping and sliding up and down the floor and I'm wondering if I should take a timeout," Gilliss said. "Perry Olson, who was reffing, looks at me and says, '... probably be a good move to take that timeout. You probably want your best player to be wearing both shoes.'"

McKay, a Mr. Basketball finalist last year from Four Winds High School, has been one of the premier offensive players at the NJCAA Division I level, when on the floor. Problem is, McKay has missed six games due to lingering knee issues, although Gilliss is hopeful of a return.

McKay ranks fourth in the country in scoring at 26.2 points per game and has made a sparkling 59 percent of his shots overall and nearly 50 percent from 3-point range. He's also averaging 7.6 boards and 3.8 assists.

"Tronis is really talented. He's certainly shown that," Gilliss said.

KyJuan Johnson, another Mr. Basketball finalist last year at Minot High, has emerged. Running the point, Johnson is averaging 7.9 points and 3.1 assists.

The Mystics also have gotten steady play from returning veterans Brody Nieuwsma and Kaelen Johnson. Nieuwsma, a former Strasburg-Zeeland standout, is averaging 15 points per game and was named the Mon-Dak player of the week on Wednesday.

Johnson has turned in strong work in the paint, averaging 12.7 points and 5.9 rebounds.

It's been a challenging season by any measure, but the Mystics continue to persevere.

"It's certainly not the way we would've scripted it, but I'm proud of the guys for the mental toughness they've shown to stay positive and continue to work hard every day," Gilliss said. "We're hoping to be competitive in the conference. The league's looking real competitive top to bottom, but hopefully we can be right in the middle of it."

Reach Tribune sports editor Dave Selvig at (701) 250-8246 or david.selvig@bismarcktribune.com

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