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Dan Cappellazzo/staff photographer NICE & EASY: Six-foot-7 guard/forward EJ Sandoval practices layups during practice Wednesday at the NCCC gym. Sandoval and the Thunderwolves are off to a 6-0 start this season.

For the first time in five years under head coach Bill Beilein, the Niagara County Community College men’s basketball team is 6-0, and it hasn’t even played a home game yet.

The Thunderwolves opened with two wins apiece in the NJCAA Region III Classic and the Westmoreland CCC tournaments, as well victories at Finger Lakes CC and Lorain CCC. Beilein credits old-fashioned hard work for the start.

“Early on, we were really surprised,” he said. “Some of the teams (we’ve faced) were really improved from last year. ... The reason we’ve won is because we’re playing harder and bringing energy other teams haven’t matched for the entire game.”

Most of Beilein’s roster hails from out of town, mainly from New York City. There are also players from Rochester, Delaware and Pennsylvania. Six-foot-6 sophomore forward Jordan Street (Niagara Falls) is the lone local starter, while sophomore forward Eric Hall (Buffalo/Seneca) comes off the bench.

“(Street) is almost averaging a double-double,” Beilein said of his forward, who averages nine points and 10 rebounds. “He’s been really unselfish on the offensive end, hitting other guys for kickouts. His unselfishness has led to him having more assists and more open looks for the team on the offensive end.”

Freshman Eli Jones (Fairport) leads the team in scoring with 22 points per game. And the 6-foot-4 swingman has done it almost all on natural ability.

“I don’t think we’ve called a play for him,” Beilein said. “He’s just working to get his buckets and taking advantage of open lanes.”

Freshmen guards Gjaimeir Stanford (Wilminton, Del.) and Sheldon Zablotny (Erie, Pa.) are also scoring in double figures, averaging 15.8 and 13.0 points per game. Six-foot-7 sophomore EJ Sandoval rounds out the starters.

“We’re a much bigger, bulkier team than in the past,” Beilein said.

More talented, too. Beilein has sent seven players to NCAA Division II schools in his time at NCCC, and 12 more to Division III. He said there’s more potential on this team for scholarship offers than in the past.

The Thunderwolves open their home schedule at 7:30 p.m. tonight against Pitt-Titusville.

“I think the guys are a little anxious to get out there and show their peers how hard they’ve been working,” Beilein said. “We hope we can get as many Niagara County fans as we can out there to enjoy a good basketball game.”

Follow Niagara Gazette sports reporter Mike Meiler on Twitter @mikemeiler for updates on your local teams.

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