HELENA, Mont. – It is just under 6,000 miles from Los Angeles to Madrid, Spain. It is not quite a quarter of the distance around the earth but the two cities might as well be on different planets. When you add Helena to the mix you might be talking about a different universe.
What brings these three cities together is basketball and two freshmen roommates on the Carroll college men’s basketball squad that come from two very different backgrounds.
Lorel Johnson comes from Los Angeles. He is a quick, 6-1 point/shooting guard. Alejandro Santos Piqueras is from Madrid. He is a 6-7 guard/forward who can pass like his fellow countryman Ricky Rubio.
These two seem different in every way but what brought them to Carroll was an opportunity. Johnson wanted a great education and a chance to broaden his horizons while playing hoops. Piqueras wanted to continue to play basketball and go to school, something that is hard to do in Spain.
"I wanted to try something different than L.A. and Helena is different," Johnson said. "I wanted to experience a new place for college. I can always go back to L.A. but I wanted to get away, at least for a while."
"I wanted to study in the U.S. because you can play basketball and study," Piqueras said. "In Spain you have to choose one or the other and I really wanted the opportunity to do both. I love basketball but I want to be prepared in case basketball doesn’t work out."
The annual average high temperature in Los Angeles is around 75 degrees. Madrid is a little cooler with average around 68 degrees. Helena on the other hand averages 58 degrees.
"I might change my mind when it gets cold but I really like Helena," Piqueras said. "The people are friendly and helpful. Something that really surprised me is sometimes when I walk from class to class there are deer walking around campus. That is something I couldn’t imagine in Madrid."
The winter temperatures are also a concern for Johnson, but he loves one element of his new city, the traffic.
"The traffic is great. I love the fact that I can get across town in a few minutes," Johnson said. "I really like the people here and the community is great. I am not looking forward to negative temperatures though."
Another great thing for the two newcomers is that they get to experience a new place together, even if they are from two places separated by an ocean and a continent.
"I think it is awesome to have Alex (Piqueras) as a roommate," Jonson said. "It just shows how basketball is a world-wide game. I am already in Montana experiencing a new place; why not meet someone from a different part of the world? Also it is a great opportunity to learn some Spanish."
Piqueras is taking the opportunity to learn about Los Angeles from Johnson.
“It is interesting learning about L.A. from Lorel,” Piqueras said. “I had no idea about what it is like growing up there. It is different but I am from a different place too and now we are in Helena, learning together."
Photo above: Saints teammates Lorel Johnson and Alejandro Santos Piqueras
The players are fitting into head coach Carson Cunningham’s system and learning a lot about the basketball and their new teammates. Cunningham’s approach to the game is part of the draw for Johnson.
“The coaches are fired up and excited, but they don’t come down hard on you,” Johnson said. “They are very guard-oriented and they know what it takes to take your game to the next level.”
For Piqueras, he not only has to adjust to a new coach and a new continent but a completely different style of basketball.
"Basketball in America is different than Europe, but the other guys are adjusting to the way I play and I am adjusting to them,” Piqueras said. “I think it is good for all of us to experience a different basketball culture."
"It’s awesome to have Lorel & Alex here. They both possess versatile games, and they’re both cerebral competitors,” Cunningham said. “Lorel started every year of his high school career, and he’s feisty. Alex is a crafty operator who can deliver passes to teammates who might not even realize they're open."
Their goal is help the rising Carroll basketball program continue to improve. The duo also hopes to give themselves a chance to pursue basketball after college, but they also know that a great education will help them their whole lives.
“Ultimately my first goal is to get my degree,” Johnson said. “I would love to play professionally but I know that playing in the NBA is one in a million. I always ask Alex what it takes to make it in Europe but if that doesn’t work out I would look to get into broadcasting. I love sports and I like to talk so I figure it would be the perfect choice for me.”
"I hope to play professionally and I know that I can become a better basketball player here,” Piqueras said. “I know that I will have a great education to rely on if that doesn’t work out."
Cunningham believes the pair will contribute a great deal to Carroll basketball and learn a lot about each other along the way.
"I bet they have some pretty cool conversations back in the dorm about growing up and playing ball in L.A. and Madrid,” Cunningham said. “I think they’re going to contribute to some great basketball tales in Helena, too."
HELENA, Mont. – Carroll College men’s basketball coach Carson Cunningham today announced the signing of 6-5 point guard Matt Wyman from Great Falls High School.
Wyman was a first-team all-conference selection during his junior season, and was twice named the Great Falls Tribune Athlete of the Week. He scored 15.2 points per game, 4.0 assists per game and was 51 percent from the field.
His best performance of the 2013-14 season came when he scored 31 points against Helena High School.
Academically Wyman is stellar. He has an unweighted 4.0 GPA with high test scores. He received the Student Recognition Award and was named the World Languages Student of the Year. He hopes to pursue a degree in the medical field.
“I’m thrilled to announce the signing of Great Falls HS guard Matt Wyman,” Cunningham said. “Matt is a rock star student, he carries a 4.0gpa, takes tons of advanced courses, and registered an eye-popping ACT score as a junior. He volunteers in the community and is the President of his senior class.
Outside of sports and school Wyman volunteered at the Sletten Cancer Center, with the Special Olympics, at the Holy Spirit Catholic Church and at the Ursuline Center.
“In addition to all that, the young man can play a mean game of basketball,” Cunningham added. “He handles the ball very well for his size, and he has more hops than the Lewis & Clark brewery—I’m telling you, the young man can sky. Matt represents the values of our program, and I think he’ll make a dynamic contributions to Carroll College.”
The 2014-15 Carroll College Men’s Basketball Schedule has been released and the Fighting Saints are set to play 32 regular season games (four are exhibitions).
Head coach Carson Cunningham and his team faces numerous tough tests in the preseason with exhibitions on the road at the University of Montana and University of Utah, as well as, heading to Cunningham’s alma mater in West Lafayette, Indiana to face perennial Big Ten power Purdue.
“Our schedule presents some mighty challenges and great match-ups as it takes us from the northern reaches of the Sonoran Desert to the Great Lakes down to Mobile Bay. We play teams in conferences ranging from the Big Ten and Pac-12 to the North Star and Canada West,” Cunningham said.
Last year, Cunningham’s first as head coach, Carroll College finished with a 9-19 overall record and placed eighth in the Frontier Conference with a 4-12 conference record. The Fighting Saints return Frontier Conference Freshman of the Year, Zach Taylor, and have several new talented additions coming to the hilltop for this upcoming season.
The Saints start their season with three of their first five games at home vs. Concordia University in Canada, Northwest Indian College and MSU-Billings.
The aforementioned weekend visit to Indiana to square off with Purdue and two other Hoosier-State programs is followed by a trip to Alabama where Carroll competes with a trio of teams in Mobile. The Saints will take part in a Christmas Tournament in Scottsdale, Ariz. this December (18-19).
With a preseason schedule littered with ranked teams and upper-division NCAA opponents, Cunningham looks forward to the challenge:
“It's an exciting and varied slate which I think our fans will really enjoy following. I know our players are going to dig playing it.”
The Fighting Saints begin Frontier Conference play on January 8. They travel to face Westminster College in Salt Lake City, Utah. The Griffins finished the 2013-14 season ranked 24th. They will then travel to Dillon and play against Montana- Western two days later.
The first home conference game is set for January 15 against the MSU-Northern. Carroll concludes the regular season with three home games in row, with the last contest on February 28 against last year’s conference champions, Rocky Mountain College.
“Looking at it from an academic perspective, I love that during the conference season our players will only miss two days of class. The later start to the spring semester and the luck of the draw helped us out big time in that regard,” Cunningham said.
Postseason play begins soon afterwards with the Frontier Conference Tournament followed by the NAIA Tournament.
By Amber Kuehn, Helena IR
The Carroll College men's basketball team will play a perennial Big Ten contender this fall. Purdue released its schedule on Thursday, and it includes a Nov. 7 exhibition against the Saints. Carroll coach Carson Cunningham said he's excited about the opportunity to return to his alma mater and put Carroll College on the map in Indiana.
"I talked to coach (Matt) Painter not too long after taking the job (at Carroll)," Cunningham said. "We'd been friends for a while beforehand. He was really gracious about congratulating me, and we were just talking hoops when I mentioned, 'Hey, man, one day we might want to play you.' And he said, 'Let's do it; let's not wait.' I was like, 'Seriously?'"
Cunningham said Purdue has been helpful about making the trip a possibility for the program.
Carroll College head men’s basketball coach Carson Cunningham announced the Fighting Saints’ third signing this month as guard Jon Pulsifer, most recently of the College of Southern Idaho has committed to play for Carroll.
"Jon had a fantastic high school career in Twin Falls, and went on to the storied junior college basketball power, the College of Southern Idaho, where he was a key contributor. His work ethic and desire should be infectious at Carroll,” Cunningham said.
Pulsifer averaged 5.8 points per game, 4.8 rebounds per contest and shot 53.6-percent from the field during the 2012-13 season. The 6-foot guard sat out this past season due to injury.
Pulsifer obtained his AA degree and maintained a 3.3 GPA in the classroom while at CSI.
“Jon is a tenacious competitor. He will be a crowd favorite and is a great acquisition for Carroll College. He will help take the team to another level,” CSI Athletic Director Joel Bate said.
Prior to his junior college career, Pulsifer was a three-time conference MVP and varsity letter winner at Twin Falls High School. During his junior season, Pulsifer was named the Magic Valley Player of the Year after averaging 23 points and 10 rebounds.
As a senior, he averaged 17 points and 8 rebounds in helping Twin Falls claim the state championship (Pulsifer was named tourney MVP). Additionally, he was named 1st team All-State and 1st team All-Region during his senior year.
Pulsifer joins Helena’s Kyle Nickol and Napa Valley’s Ryan Imhoff as recent signings for the Carroll College men’s program.
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