Cichon Helps Lead Owls to Conference Title, NCAA Berth as Host Team News Keene State College

Courage, determination and a strong sense of conviction drive the team player

It wasn’t easy for Jeric Cichon ’23 to hang on to his hat, weather the turmoil and find his way.

There were a lot of bumps, the fifth-grader, who starts unprepared for Keene State’s top-ranked men’s basketball team, is quick to admit.

“Honestly,” said Jeric, “so many things started off on the wrong foot. I wasn’t mature; I wasn’t quite there yet. I didn’t meet with the coach when I should have. I wasn’t good in class and I didn’t take things seriously. Coach (Ryan) Cain didn’t take me seriously either. I think he saw me as someone who wouldn’t be around long.”

The Owls, who go into the first round of Friday’s NCAA tournament play at home at No. 5 nationally, can be grateful that Jeric found growth and change not so much as a path of least resistance, but as the best chance at success has.

We have teammates who want to bring out the best in you. When you’re having a bad game and one of your good friends is having a good game, it feels like you had a good game too. There are first and second graders on this team who inspire me, who build me up.”

– Jeric Cichon

Jeric, 23, helped the Owls have a program-best campaign with 26 wins and one loss, a sixth Little East Conference title and second straight, and a March Madness host bid.

Keene State entertains Baruch College at 5:30 p.m. Friday in a contest that marks the first time the Owls have hosted an NCAA tournament game on their home court since 2007.

Tufts University and Widener University are the other two teams in the four-team group playing at Keene State and vying for a shot at promotion to the Sweet 16. You give a tip at 3:00 p.m. Friday’s winners will play at Spaulding Gym on Saturday at 5:30pm for the right to continue in the field of 64 teams.

All games will be streamed by the Owls Media Network at and on the Keene State College Athletics YouTube page @KeeneStateOwls.

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Owls assistant trainer David Hastings likens the 6ft 2in cichon to a Swiss Army knife. “All these devices, Jeric has that,” Hastings said. “He’s such a unique player because he does so many things well and always puts the needs of the team first.”

“His numbers remain balanced and they’re good, but scoring isn’t his forte,” added Hastings. “He can have a big hitting day depending on what the defense allows. We ride him because we know what Jeric has to offer when he’s on the pitch.”

These gimmicks. this experience. The unique versatility.

“My coaches saw something in me that I didn’t see and that’s why I never gave up basketball,” said Jeric. “I had too much left.”

Academically, security studies have given Jeric “something challenging” and something unique and unifying. “A lot of basketball alumni have looked into safety, and I communicate with them at job fairs and look up to what they’re doing.”

Off the pitch, Jeric has worked locally as a mentor for Monadnock Developmental Services, working with children on the autism spectrum who are dealing with disabilities or who are struggling at home. “Probably the best job I’ve ever had,” said Jeric. Each year, Jeric also works with his mother, Jilena Cichon, to serve meals to the homeless at a Knights of Columbus in their hometown.

“It’s a good prospect,” he said. “You have to be thankful for what you have, for the situation you are in.”

Really, he said, “I’ve always been a kid who loved sports and didn’t quit.”

Jeric played a starring role in basketball at East Longmeadow High School, becoming a starter in his sophomore year and averaging nearly a triple-double a game as a senior, averaging 39 points in a contest once.

A Springfield, Massachusetts native’s scrapbook-filled career has included his senior year nomination for a John “Honey” Lohovich Award. First presented in 1946, the award recognizes the preeminent high school basketball player in western Massachusetts. Lohovich, a former Springfield Trade High School star player, was killed in World War II.

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2015 honoree Ty Nichols is Keene State’s all-time leading scorer. Other winners include Adam Harrington and Travis Best, former NBA players.

Jeric was also recognized as a Super Seven award winner in high school. The award honors the seven outstanding high school graduates in western Massachusetts.

After high school, Jeric spent a year at Springfield Commonwealth Academy, a private preparatory school, to improve his academic and basketball resumes, but never received the attention he envisioned when he was recruited, he said.

Keene State was pursuing a good friend of Jeric’s at the time, Sharown Fowler, who eventually moved to LEC rivals Eastern Connecticut. Jeric chose to attend Keene State despite not being recruited by college.

“I haven’t seen any other school with a high level of basketball besides Keene,” Jeric said, “so I took it as a challenge to go there. When I went to see him, Coach Cain told me straight away that he couldn’t promise any game time, only a spot on the list. It should be what you get, what you deserve, but I knew I would become a better player. I had to in order to be able to play.”

Jeric has demonstrated that flexibility many times, but perhaps at no time more than in the Owls’ two big home wins against Western Connecticut this season, both decided in overtime, and the second time with conference hardware on the line.

In the first game, when top scorer Octavio fouled Brito with 19 minutes to go, Jeric was moved from backcourt to the role of big man No. 4 to fill in Brito’s shoes and Jeric didn’t miss a shot, Hastings said. “He brings a physicality that’s hard to find in a lot of players.”

In the LEC title game, it was Jeric who knocked down the game’s biggest shot, a crucial 3-pointer on a Jeff Hunter kickout pass in overtime, and grabbed the biggest rebound, after a free-throw miss with 5 seconds left Overtime and the owls until three. Jeric was fouled in the process and made the second of two tries with 2.9 ticks remaining to seal the title win 83-79.

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Jeric took advantage of an extra year of eligibility granted to any student-athlete on a roster in 2020-21 during the COVID-19 outbreak. A big motivation is redemption, Jeric said of the decision to use his fifth year. That and the chance to play with a great collection of teammates.

“The way our season ended last year (in the second round of the NCAA) in Oswego, the way I played and felt, I knew I was going to come back,” he explained. “I’ve had a hernia for most of the year and had surgery last summer. I wasn’t the player I wanted to be.

“Last year our focus was on winning the LEC and that’s what we did, but this year it’s changed to something different: winning every day, every practice, winning every game. To win a national championship. Despite everything we’ve won, no one on our team is happy right now.

“This year’s team is real. We have teammates who want to bring out the best in you. When you’re having a bad game and one of your good friends is having a good game, it feels like you had a good game too. There are first and second graders on this team who inspire me, who build me up.”

Cain, who took the helm as head coach just two seasons before Jeric took office, has marveled at the progress and sustained work ethic of his outstanding guard.

“Jeric continued to be the hardest working person in our program,” said the coach. “Every morning you can see him at the Spaulding Gym getting shots and later in the day Jeric will be in the weight room stretching and working out to prevent injury and maintain his strength throughout the season. He cherishes his journey and understands that journey has made him the person, player and leader he is today.”