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January 28. 2013 9:14PM

Kevin Gray's Gray Matter: Local talent has NHTI thinking big


 


Paul Hogan, head basketball coach for NHTI, gives direction to his players against UMaine Fort Kent, at New Hampshire Technical Institute in Concord on Thursday. (THOMAS ROY/UNION LEADER)


Besfort Syla is on the move for NHTI, against UMaine Fort Kent, at New Hampshire Technical Institute in Concord on Thursday. (THOMAS ROY/UNION LEADER)

NEW HAMPSHIRE Technical Institute is a launching point for college students looking to save money, bank some credits and enjoy a vibrant campus life. The school's motto is "Start Here ... Go Anywhere!"

So why are these basketball players sticking around for so long?

Most students spend two years at the community college, but Manchester West graduate Besfort Syla, an NHTI team captain, has been leading the fastbreak for four seasons. Syla, of Kosovo, is a non-traditional student who'll finish with degrees in criminal justice and general studies. His family fled from a war at home and spent 18 months in a refugee camp before immigrating to the U.S. Besfort's younger brother, Bujar, also plays for the Lynx.

"The biggest thing is we're always looking out for each other," said Besfort, whose original plan called for a one-year stop at NHTI before moving on to Colby-Sawyer College or Plymouth State University. "I never thought I would stay this long, but why leave something that is so good and go somewhere to start something new?"

Nick Porter and Jackson Riel of Pembroke are in their third season. So, too, are Ryan Sweeney from Alvirne of Hudson and Ahntwan Harris of Los Alamitos, Calif. At the end of last season, the core players all vowed to return and pursue a championship season in the U.S. Small College Athletic Association.

So far, so good. The Lynx have won 24 of their first 25 games.

"We know we can go far. We're always in sync," Porter said. "We kind of all got together at the end of last season and said, "You know what? If we all come back, we could actually win it.'"

Head coach Paul Hogan, who has won more than 500 games at NHTI, has seen more than 30 of his players move on to more traditional four-year schools. Ryan Lambert from Pinkerton of Derry used NHTI as a springboard to Plymouth State University, where he became the leading scorer (15.3 ppg) two seasons ago. Brian Lawrence of Exeter and Brian Stice of Dover transferred from NHTI to Rivier College and had success in recent years.

Transfer opportunities, competitive teams and a growing liberal arts curriculum are drawing more and more students to NHTI. Hogan, a former PSU head coach, has watched the school's enrollment increase from 1,100 to 2,200 full-time students in the past 14 years. About 3,500 part-time students also roam the campus. You can't beat the cost per credit ($204) for in-state students. By comparison, in-state students at the University of New Hampshire pay $570 per credit.

In 2005, NHTI won the USCAA championship, posting a 31-3 record, to become the first college basketball team from New Hampshire to win a national title. The Lynx simply wear down opponents with a fast-paced offense and fullcourt defense. Harris, a 6-foot-3 forward who works about 20 hours per week at Sears, is the Michael Jordan of NHTI's Crocker Wellness Center. Harris can score with mid-range jumpers or in-your-face dunks. Teammate Terry Williams, who scored 25 points at University of Maine at Machais on Sunday, is among the many weapons. It's always a good show when the Lynx are playing.

No wonder nobody wants to leave.


LET BONNER SHOOT: OK, fellow Granite Staters. It's time to make a final push for Matt Bonner and help get the Red Rocket into the 3-Point Shooting Contest at All-Star weekend in Houston. The Concord High native ranks 12th all-time in 3-point shooting percentage (41.7) and has never been involved in the 3-Point Shootout.

What can you do to help? Spread the word on social media. Share Facebook posts and retweet messages on Twitter with the hashtag "#LetBonnerShoot." It just might work. Matt's younger brother, Luke, who helped launch the movement with a letter to the NBA, appeared on NBAtv last week to keep the momentum going.

"It would be a shame if he played his whole career and never got a chance to compete in this event," Luke said on NBAtv.

Bonner wants this badly. Golden State sharpshooter Stephen Curry, who already has been invited to compete in the contest, seems indifferent. "It would be a big commitment heading down there for one event, so I'm figuring out if I'm going to make that commitment," said Curry in a published report at RealGM.com.

The Red Rocket hasn't received so much attention since a kid from Texas had an image of Bonner shaved into the back of his head. The story went national. Now the #LetBonnerShoot campaign is going viral.

Indie rock band Arcade Fire is making a big push for Bonner. The Grammy Award-winning band tweeted, "There's so much injustice in the world that we can't do anything about, but this is something we can change."

OK, NBA, it's time. Let the man shoot.

Staff writer Kevin Gray's email address is kgray@unionleader.com


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