Apr 20, 2017 - By Scott Akanewich, Sports EditorCentral Wyoming College's Chris Quayle and Alihan Demir will play for North Dakota State and Drexel University.
Without question, this past season was a magical campaign for the Rustlers of Central Wyoming College, as the black-and-orange basketballers had one of the best years in the program's history.
Now, two members of a club which advanced to the second round of the National Collegiate Junior Athletics Association Region IX tournament will set their sights on a possible NCAA tournament bid next season.
Central's Chris Quayle, a Riverton alum and former Wyoming state player of the year, and his Rustlers teammate, Alihan Demir, have inked their names to national letters of intent to play for and attend North Dakota State University and Drexel University, respectively.
Quayle averaged 10.4 points and six rebounds per game for head coach Jack Nelson's club, as the Rustlers went 21-9, including a season sweep of perennial power Casper College.
Demir, of Ankara, Turkey, was good for 13.6 points and 7.3 boards per contest.
North Dakota State is in Fargo. The Bison last played in the NCAA tournament in 2015, losing in the first round to Gonzaga. In 2009, they lost to Kansas, also in the first round. In both 2013 and 2014, NDSU played in the CBI tournament, losing to Wyoming by a 76-75 score in 2013.
Drexel is in Philadelphia. The Dragons haven't played in the NCAA tournament since 1996, the third of three consecutive appearances that included a win over Memphis in '96.
According to Nelson, Quayle has exactly what it takes to be successful at the Division I level, with his versatility perhaps being at the top of his skill set.
"Chris is a very well-rounded player," said Nelson. "He's a very good shooter, he can handle the ball and sees the floor well. Possibly his biggest strength, though, is he's a very intelligent player and really understands the game."
The 6-4 Quayle doesn't measure up size-wise with bigger men under the basket, but he has an uncanny ability to rip down rebounds among the forest of humanity in the paint, said Nelson.
"Chris is a bigger guard, so that helps him do well as a rebounder," he said. "He's a much better athlete than I think he gets credit for, so if you combine his length, height and athleticism, then you have someone who has the potential to be a good rebounder. More than anything, though, is his willingness to go inside and attack the glass that allows him to bring down tough rebounds."
Quayle brings much more than physical skills to the court, which is what makes him the complete package, said Nelson.
"Chris's intangibles are what make him a special player, in my opinion," he said. "He's a very hard worker on and off the floor and is a very intelligent player who understands the game very well. He's a great teammate and is very easy to coach -- a guy you never have to question his effort or his focus level and who studies the game, which helps him be a better player and know his opponents very well."
As for the Turkish import Demir, who will be taking his considerable size and athleticism to Drexel in Philadelphia, Nelson is equally impressed with his quality.
"Alihan is very talented. His overall skill set for someone his size will benefit him immensely at the next level," said Nelson. "He has good hands and a soft touch around the basket. He also has the ability to play on the perimeter, either shooting or attacking the basket. The combination of the inside/outside game allows coaches to take advantage of different matchups."
Demir, who stands 6-8, is a fitness fanatic, which definitely comes in handy whenever a player moves up to face tougher competition, particularly when it comes to having a clear mind during practices and games, said Nelson.
"I would say Alihan's overall strength and conditioning is perhaps his greatest asset," he said. "I tell all of our guys and our recruits - the biggest thing that can help you when going to the next level, whether it's high school to junior college or junior college to the four-year level, is to be in the best physical condition possible. If you are out of shape and trying to learn a new system and go through workouts, then you're not able to retain everything as you are going to be more focused on being tired. But if you are in peak physical condition, then you can soak up more of what the coaches are trying to teach you."
Nelson is pleased to see his players move on, but he knows the result is a need to reload when gaping holes are left in his lineup. When someone gets an opportunity to play at a higher level, it can only help replenish the Rustlers' ranks, he said.
"It certainly doesn't hurt recruiting. Many of the guys that go to junior college come here with the goal of having an opportunity at the Division I level," said Nelson. "I'm always quick to remind recruits, though, the reason guys get an opportunity is because of the hard work they put in. I would never promise a kid we will send him to a Division I program, but I can promise we will push players to help achieve their goals, and we'll make sure they're seen by as many of those programs as possible."
As for hometown hero Quayle, Nelson realizes what it means for the entire community of Riverton to see a favorite son get a chance to shine at the highest level of college basketball.
"It's very exciting to see a kid like Chris have an opportunity such as this," said Nelson. "I know the entire community will be excited to follow his success over the next few years."
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