Coach Allen Ragland is trying to build a quality men’s basketball program at Atlantic Cape Community College.
That’s not an easy task, and it’s even tougher during the COVID-19 pandemic when so much of the future for all sports is unknown.
“We’re looking to bring in guys who want to get their education first,” Ragland said. “We’re using academics as a motor. You cannot play basketball if you don’t have academics.”
Ragland has recruited players from as far away as Colorado and as close as Atlantic City.
“I think Atlantic Cape is a hidden gold mine,” he said.
Ragland, 49, has long been involved in the South Jersey basketball scene. He has coached several AAU programs and worked several high-profile camps, including Five Star Basketball Camps. He attended Atlantic City High School before his family moved to Texas. He graduated from Killeen High School in Texas in 1988. Ragland eventually returned to South Jersey because this is where he grew up.
He spent the past few seasons coaching at Isaiah Christopher Basketball Academy, a post-graduate, Atlantic County-based exposure program.
“For years, countless youths have been under (Ragland’s tutelage),” said ACCC athletic director and 2007 Atlantic City High School graduate Jamal Edwards. “He’s sent countless young men and women to school to play basketball and football. He’s helped others, and he’s done it effortlessly without asking for anything in return.”
ACCC has struggled with consistency. The program has had trouble at times to attract players. Atlantic Cape is part of the Garden State Athletic Conference, a Division III junior college league.
Ragland took over the program last January and coached the final six games for the Buccaneers.
“It’s a job I always wanted,” Ragland said, “because it has a lot of potential because of how strong Atlantic City and South Jersey basketball is.”
Ragland has long helped area players connect with junior colleges in the Midwest and Florida.
“I always said if I could keep this talent at home, we could build something beautiful here,” he said. “We’re looking to change the culture (at ACCC). We’re trying to show when you have great athletic programs you attract more students to your college.”
Ragland said the program plans to have a media day before the upcoming season and live stream games.
“We have some hidden talent,” Ragland said. “We’re looking to do big things.”
Edwards said he and Ragland are invested in ACCC’s long-term success. Edwards knows first-hand the benefits of the junior college system. After graduating from Atlantic City, he played for Lamar Community College in Colorado and then East Central University, a four-year NCAA Division II school in Ada, Oklahoma.
“I walked (in the players’) shoes,” Edwards said. “People know (our) faces. We can go in all the neighborhoods, talk to the parents, talk to the youths. I don’t have a timeline on it, but I know in the near future we’re going to turn this thing around. Atlantic Cape is a great institution. We’re just trying to pick up on that.”