GRANITEVILLE, S.C. - Aiken Tech coach Charles Welch skipped the rebuilding stage and reloaded instead.
The Knights graduated all five starters from last season's 30-3 Region 10 Championship squad that advanced to the NCAA Division II junior college national tournament.
Welch returned just four reserve players from the squad that held the No. 1 ranking in the nation at one point last year.
"It's hard to follow a year like that," Welch said at the beginning of this year. "We had a special group of guys."
This year's Aiken Tech (25-5) team hasn't given Welch much time to miss last season's stellar run. The squad is in the national tournament for the second consecutive year and third time in the past four years.
The Knights will play Saint Louis Community College (23-9) on Wednesday at 8 p.m. in the first round of the 12-team tournament at Danville Area Community College in Danville, Ill..
Aiken Tech got the bid after an 82-66 pounding of Rockingham Community College gave the Knights its fourth Region 10 Championship in five years.
"It's special any time you can make it to that level," Welch said. "You lose one group of special players and get another group."
Q.B. Scott (Hephzibah), Darrick Broddie (Glenn Hills) and Andrew Duke (Augusta Christian), three reserves who saw little time on last season's talented sophomore-laden squad, were named to the All Region team, with Broddie being named the tournament's most valuable player.
Duke is averaging 14.1 points per game and 6.2 rebounds this season. Broddie pumps in 13.3 points and 6.3 rebounds, while Scott chips in 13 points and two steals per contest.
"I had confidence in them coming back even though they didn't play a lot last year," Welch said. "We were worried a little before recruiting about the way things would go this year. We just needed to get some people around those guys we had coming back. And we did that."
Welch landed Calvin Jefferson (Aiken), Renaldo Norman (Greenwood), Shannon Martin (Greenwood) and Marshall Jenkins (Dixie) last spring. But it was the late acquisition of Tarance Callahan (South Aiken) that Welch says made the difference.
Callahan, last year's Region 3-AAAA player of the year, leads the Knights in scoring, rebounding and steals with 16.1 points, 8.7 rebounds and 2.1 steals per game. The freshman, who started all four years at South Aiken, earned honors as co-player of the year this season and represents Region 10 as a nominee for All-American status.
"We would've been a good team without Tarance," Welch said. "But he just came in and really put us over the top. He's such a complete player. He can handle the ball, he can post and he can play defense. He's just a smart player. We could've won the region championship without him, but you couldn't win a national championship without a player like him."
The Knights would have to win four games in four days to win the national championship. A victory Wednesday might be enough to bring Welch out of his seat. Aiken Tech is 0-4 in the national tournament, a fact Welch said he won't dwell on as motivation.
"This is a new team," he said. "The reserves really didn't play that much up there last year. So they're not 0-4 up there, I'm 0-4. I would like to get that monkey off my back. Being winless up there doesn't sit too well with me. But regardless of how well we do, we have had another remarkable season."
Reach Patrick Green at (803) 648-1395.
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