Friday, March 21, 2014

A-Sun Enjoying Record-Setting Postseason Appearances

With March Madness now underway, this year’s schedule of postseason play is particularly bright for the A-Sun as the conference celebrates yet another milestone in men’s and women’s basketball.

This season a record number of eight A-sun teams took the court in postseason tournaments, with three teams (ETSU men, Stetson women and Northern Kentucky women) already claiming wins and advancing to the second rounds of their respective tournaments.

For the first time in A-Sun history four men’s teams – Mercer, FGCU, ETSU and USC Upstate – earned opportunities to extend their seasons in postseason play. Each enjoyed a level of success throughout the season that led to the conference milestone, including advancing to the semifinals of the 2014 A-Sun Championship.

The A-Sun’s previous record for postseason teams was three, which has happened on five occasions (1988, 2004, 2009, 2011 and 2012).

In its third straight postseason appearance, No. 14 seed Mercer returned to the NCAA Tournament today for the first time since 1985 and proceeded to upset No. 3 seed Duke, 78-71. Two years ago the Bears claimed the A-Sun’s first postseason title, along with its program’s first as well, by winning the Tournament title. Last season Mercer knocked off their next opponent, Tennessee, in the NIT first round before falling to BYU in the second, and now the senior-laden Bears continue to make their mark in NCAA March Madness. Mercer now boasts a 27-8 record, which includes a share of the 2014 A-Sun Regular Season title. 

Atlantic Sun teams have combined for 14 postseason wins in the past four seasons; seven of which came from Mercer.

 After becoming the first 15-seed to ever reach the NCAA Sweet 16 a year ago, FGCU set itself up to enjoy another run in postseason by claiming a share of this year’s A-Sun regular season with Mercer. Falling to the Bears in a thrilling A-Sun Championship final, the Eagles then took their 22-12 record to Tallahassee to face top-seeded FSU in their first ever NIT action. In a tight contest throughout, the Seminoles eventually edged the Eagles 58-53.

USC Upstate and ETSU both earned home games in the Tournament as the Spartans hosted Towson on Wednesday, while the Buccaneers tangled with Chattanooga. Both teams reached the A-Sun Championship Semifinals and both have history in the CIT, as the Spartans claimed a win vs. Kent State in 2012, while ETSU reached the 2011 CIT Semifinals. After tying the game with 1.8 seconds remaining to seemingly force overtime, Towson did the unthinkable and drained a half court shot at the buzzer to top Upstate 63-60 at the Hodge Center.

The Bucs picked up their third victory in CIT competition on Wednesday, topping Chattanooga 79-66 and will continue as host as the y welcome Towson to the ETSU/MHSA Athletic Center tonight at 7 p.m. ET.

For the second year in a row Atlantic Sun Women's Basketball finds four teams playing in postseason tournaments with FGCU leading the way with a No. 12 seed in the NCAA Tournament. The four teams  – FGCU, Stetson, Northern Kentucky and USC Upstate – in postseason play ties for the most squads the league has landed in the postseason with Stetson, FGCU, Northern Kentucky and Mercer making tournaments in 2013.

The Eagles face No. 5 Oklahoma State in West Lafayette, Ind., on Saturday, March 22nd, at 11 a.m. The first round match-up will be available live on ESPN2. This is the Eagles’ second trip to the big dance with a repeat performance as a No. 12 seed.

For the first time in A-Sun history the league marked two teams with 25+ wins as FGCU and Stetson entered postseason with 26-7 records. The Eagles won the A-Sun Regular season title and grabbed a 72-70 overtime victory against the Hatters in the A-Sun Championship final to earn the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.

Stetson earned a trip to the WNIT and the Hatters took advantage, knocking off Miami 70-63 on the road. The Hatters’ season continues to be historic as they set a program record for wins in a season (now 27) and are making their fourth-consecutive appearance in postseason play with NCAA appearances in 2013 and 2011 and a WNIT game in 2012. The Hatters now await the winner of today’s match-up between USF and North Carolina A&T, with the potential of hosting their second round contest.

Northern Kentucky finished third in the A-Sun regular season and received a postseason berth for the second-straight year as the Norse hosted McNeese State in the Women's Basketball Invitational (WBI) Thursday evening. The Norse, the No.3 seed in the West Region, controlled Thursday’s game with the Cowgirls and claimed the 84-72 victory on the strength of Kayla Thacker’s game-high of 25 points. NKU now travels to Charleston to face the College of Charleston, who knocked off No. 6 seed USC Upstate 85-71 on Thursday.

The Norse were a force to be reckoned with this season as they are in their second year of transition. NKU boasts an 18-12 record and handed the A-Sun Champion Eagles their lone loss in conference play. Upstate reached the A-Sun Championship semifinal and sits with a 17-14 record.

As the A-Sun’s historic basketball postseason continues, it is easy to see why the conference’s star is on the rise. Quality regular-season wins, recent postseason success and an ever-expanding level of individual talent and coaching expertise paint an impressive picture of A-Sun basketball that will continue to earn its place among the nation’s best.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

A-Sun, FGCU Partnership a Win-Win Situation

In the 1980s, actor George Peppard played a character named Hannibal Smith in the television show, “The A-Team.” Smith’s character, a former military colonel, became famous for a grin combined with the regularly delivered one-liner, “I love it when a plan comes together.”

For former A-Sun Commissioner Bill Bibb, former FGCU President Bill Merwin and former FGCU Director of Athletics Carl McAloose, they too can sit back with a grin as their plan is coming together nicely.

It was just a few years ago in 2007 when that leadership recognized that a partnership between the two could prove successful. The plan for growth and success was a solid one. FGCU and the A-Sun would continue the development of natural rivalries around the southeast; FGCU would infuse a new energy of growth and support from the southwest Florida community; and the move strengthened the A-Sun’s commitment among its membership of Building Winners for Life in all arenas – academic, athletics and community leadership, while aligning FGCU with members who shared the same commitment.

“I knew we had an opportunity when former Commissioner Bill Bibb came back from a CCA meeting in Naples and the first item he shared with me was his stop at FGCU,” said A-Sun Commissioner Ted Gumbart. “He knew there was potential for a great partnership.

“FGCU had good facilities, a growing relationship with the community, and had experienced success in many sports. It was the conference piece that was missing at Division II.”

For FGCU the partnership with the A-Sun opened doors to compete at the highest level for academic accolades, such as membership to All-Region and All-America teams, to which Eagle student-athletes perennially are recognized. It made available assistance and honors such as the Division I-AAA Athletics Directors Association Scholar-Athlete Teams and Post-Graduate Scholarships, an honor FGCU’s Sarah Hansen claimed in 2012. Eagles were also eligible for other national awards such Senior CLASS among others, along with the highest levels of Academic All-Conference honors.

In the arenas of competition, the A-Sun’s partnership with FGCU allowed the Eagles to begin competing at the highest levels, an opportunity to which they have taken full advantage. Since joining the A-Sun in 2007, FGCU has been a regular participant in NCAA postseason competition, claiming more than 20 regular season or tournament championships in seven sports. Although their opportunity for another trip to the NCAA Tournament was cut short in the men's championship loss to Mercer, their successful regular season certainly sets them up for another postseason run. 

Today women's basketball claimed their second A-Sun Championship title in three years, and the Eagles have played for the title each of the last three seasons. FGCU’s women’s basketball has been to postseason every year since joining the A-Sun, and has tallied three postseason wins during that stretch.

“When we committed to them and they committed to us, we wanted to start full conference competition immediately,” Gumbart continued. "The A-Sun was the first conference to do this, but we were determined to be fully supportive as teams worked through the four years of reclassification. We also wanted all of our membership to have the opportunity to compete and grow together. I think the past few years have proven that it has been a tremendously successful partnership. I'm glad the CCA meetings were in Naples!"

Most recently the A-Sun has taken strides to benefit FGCU – along with the rest of the conference membership – via opportunities for greater coverage as the conference’s relationship with ESPN, particularly in the area of campus production, continues to flourish. Since 2012 the A-Sun has seen more than a 300 percent growth in its original content that is provided to the ESPN family of networks, and now FGCU is now midway through its first year of the on-campus production as well.

In 2012 FGCU also had the opportunity to be recognized as one of the first teams in the NCAA to compete for a conference championship in sand volleyball, as the A-Sun’s leadership role in the sport encompassed conducting the first conference championship in Division I.

So through their teamwork, the A-Sun and FGCU are continuing the mission of providing opportunities for student-athletes to achieve in competition, in the classroom and in their communities. It looks like the plan has come together nicely.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Stetson's Fresh Faces Helping Hatters to Success

As freshmen of course neither Amber Porter nor Brianti Saunders were listed on the Preseason All-Conference Team, but it is hard to miss them now.

Even ask their Head Coach Lynn Bria if she envisioned that they would have achieved their level of play in their first year of college basketball, and she answers unequivocally.

“I am completely surprised by what they have brought to this season,” said Bria. “First I would never have dreamed that we would win 25 games, and that they would have been able to contribute, excel and play like they have come in and played this year.”

Stetson’s dynamic duo has already been recognized as two of the top players in the A-Sun. They were both selected to the All-Freshman Team (Porter unanimously) and Amber also earned membership as the only freshman on the First Team All-Conference.

Together they earned eight Newcomer of the Week (Porter 5, Saunders 3) and two Player of the Week (each with one) honors while helping the Hatters to a record-setting season. Porter has become Stetson’s all-time single-season blocks leader with 118, and Saunders started all 31 games and also ranks among the A-Sun’s leaders in several categories.

There is no doubt that these two young ladies are talented individuals. But they also fit well into a team that was primed for success, returning a solid core group from last year’s A-Sun Championship team that included senior Sasha Sims, juniors C.J. Coddington, Cherisse Burris, Myeshia Hall and Jama Sharp. The abilities of Porter and Saunders, however, do not overshadow their teammates, something that Bria is quick to mention.

“Both were stars on their high school teams and everything centered around them, but on our team they are very unselfish players,” said Bria.

Looking back particularly on senior Sasha’s Sims freshman season, Sims will tell you that Bria was relentless to her freshman star. While Porter and Saunders would probably agree that Bria has not softened in the three years since, Sims would argue that she has.

And while Bria definitely disagrees that she is not tough with her freshmen, she points to the program’s progression since Sims’ first season in Deland as to why it might seem, to Sims at least, that she is not so unyielding with her future standouts.

“I don’t think I have ever been as hard on Amber and Briana as I was on Sasha,” said Bria. “But I think the difference is where the program is now compared to where it was when Sasha was a freshman.

“We weren’t winning when she came in and I needed her to contribute immediately. If you were to ask them (Porter and Saunders) I am sure they would say that I never let up on them too. I don’t think I treat Amber and Briana any differently as freshmen; it is just that the situation is different.

“We brought back a good core group with C.J., Jama, Sasha, Cherisse and Myeshia, so the situation that Amber and Briana were stepping into was something better, not as hard as it was for Sasha. Believe me, I don’t slack off on these freshmen either, and I am sure they would tell you that.”

Whether it is the team that is getting the most out of Porter and Saunders, or Bria, the fact remains that they are performing incredibly well in their first collegiate seasons. Porter is a force on defense, ranking fifth in the NCAA in blocks with an average of 3.7 per game, which is the best among freshmen this season.

Certainly not one-dimensional, Porter can also put the ball in the basket, as she has scored in double figures in 16 of the last 18 games. She leads the A-Sun in Field Goal Percentage (.550), and also ranks sixth in scoring and sixth in rebounds. In the quarterfinal game against Kennesaw State, she contributed 15 points, 12 rebounds and eight blocks.

Saunders takes no back seat to Porter, as she started all 31 games and tallied double-digits on 23 occasions. She has scored 188 points in her last eight games, including 15 points with five rebounds against Kennesaw State. Saunders also ranks 10th in the A-Sun in scoring (13.1 ppg) and fifth in free throw percentage (.802).

Bria is both amazed and respectful of the pair’s ability to be so consistent and why it is that they can play at such a level in every game.

“They are producing at a high level, but they are still bonehead freshmen,” said Bria. “What I mean by that is they play with no fear. It doesn’t matter who we play, they do not get intimidated and they do not back down. In fact, they played one of their better games on the road against Oklahoma.

“They are so consistent because they both stay in the gym.” Bria continues. “Their work ethic is tremendous because they both want to be great. I have never seen two freshmen that worked any harder than they do. Briana will even come in after a game and shoot.

Even with these young ladies already exhibiting talent that will certainly benefit the Hatters for several years to come, the fact remains that they are still young players that do have areas for improvement.

“They are both so talented, and they have not even begun to reach their upside,” said Bria. “Amber needs to get to the weights and get stronger, while Briana will continue to improve in seeing the big picture of the game, see the game at a higher level.

“They both have also struggled in the area of communication. Bri says more than Amber, but not much. They are quiet players who just DO. Amber particularly is a quiet person and was not enamored by the whole recruiting process, she didn’t like it, and so she was a touch nut to crack.

But I do think that they will need to become better communicators as their games continue to progress. By the time they are juniors and seniors they will have the whole package and their work ethic will be so important for the younger players coming up behind them.

“They play every game the same, and that is where being a ‘bonehead freshman’ is a good thing. They don’t care if it is Oklahoma or it a conference tournament game, they play the same way every time and that is why they have been able to be so consistent and to reach their levels of success.”

For these “bonehead freshmen” and for the Hatters, the duo’s consistency has the program right where it wants to be, playing for a second straight A-Sun Championship. They have certainly impacted Stetson’s record-setting season, and according to Bria, might not even realize that they are playing for a conference title.

Home Court Key Component of FGCU's Success

Former Temple Owl and NBA star Eddie Jones once said that home court changes everything. If you have home court, you're expected to win.

With support coming from the young, raucos Dirty Birds to the more experienced Silver Birds, Florida Gulf Coast basketball has created a home court advantage that many feel is second to none in the A-Sun. For the women’s team particularly the numbers bear out Jones’ philosophy, and they are counting on that edge when they take the court for the A-Sun Women’s Basketball Championship final on Sunday.

Since the Eagles joined the A-Sun in 2007, Alico Arena has become a wasteland for visiting opponents. In the last seven years, FGCU owns a home record of 99-8, including a 64-1 mark in A-Sun play and a 35-7 mark against non-conference opponents.

“It's great to have to have this experience in the A-Sun Championship in front of our fans that have been with us all of these years," Head Coach Karl Smesko said. "It's great to see the crowd out there."

From 2007 to 2011, as the Eagles were in the midst of reclassification from NCAA Division II to Division I status, they were ineligible for the A-Sun Championship and NCAA Tournament play.

Nonetheless, the Eagles went 59-4 during that period, including a 36-1 stretch in A-Sun contests and a 23-3 mark in non-conference action with against programs such as Memphis (2007-08), Florida (2008-09), Seton Hall (2010-11) and Indiana (2010-11). They also claimed the regular season titles in the 2008-09 and 2010-11 seasons and currently own a 6-6 mark in postseason play that includes the WNIT, the NJIT and the NCAA Tournament.

Even despite their limited access for chances to achieve postseason success, the Eagles’ following did not diminish. Attendance numbers since 2007 indicate that FGCU has averaged 1627 at home games over the last seven years, growing to 1944 fans per game in the three years since the 2011-12 season when reclassification was completed. FGCU reached a high mark of 2,025 per game in 2010-11 and followed that with a program high of 2,185 per game in 2011-12.

Since 2011-12, the Eagles also own a 40-4 mark at home with a spotless 28-0 record in A-Sun games. In fact, you have to hearken back to Thursday, Jan. 8, 2009, for the last time FGCU lost a home A-Sun game. That was a 75-67 setback to ETSU.

Plus, in the last three years you can add more impressive non-conference wins to the total against the likes of Michigan State (2011-12), Virginia Tech (2011-12), and LSU (2012-13).

FGCU has not lost a home conference game in five seasons and have endured no more than two losses at home since 2007. Amazingly, no one on the current Eagles roster has ever experienced a loss in a conference game at Alico Arena.

“It's an amazing experience," FGCU's senior Sarah Hansen said. "Night in, night out our fans are here and they are loud. To be able to play in front of people that want you to win and love you is truly special."

So no matter the opponent for FGCU on Sunday, birds of all kinds will be on hand to do their part to get the Eagles to the next stop in the journey. An undefeated streak is once again on the line, along with an A-Sun Championship title and a ticket to the NCAA Tournament.

The Eagles are counting on home court changing everything. And they will be expecting to win.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Sims Develops as Player and Leader

By Jamie Bataille

One day, perhaps in the very near future, Sasha Sims will be remembered as one of the all-time greats in Stetson history. However, not many people who saw Sims play in her first season as a Hatter would have thought that possible.

“Her freshman year, all she did was shoot threes,” Stetson head coach Lynn Bria said about Sims. “That is all she had in her game. She did nothing else for our team. We needed (the threes), but thank God we had (Victoria) McGowan and a really good group.”

While Sims averaged nearly 10 points a game and earned Atlantic Sun All-Freshman Team honors in 2010-11, she really struggled with the amount of responsibility and the high expectations placed on her right from the start of her career.

“My freshman year was pretty tough,” Sims said. “I came in and the program was in the process of trying to turn over a new leaf. I was expected to perform at a high level every day from the day I got here. If there was a problem and we were getting in trouble, it probably was because of me. I was the only freshman, so if anything went wrong, it was like, ‘Yeah, Sasha messed it up.’ It was pretty tough.”

“It was hard for her, because she was the lone freshman, but she was never, never treated like a freshman,” Bria said. “I just felt like she was so talented and she should be giving us more. I have never been easy on her. It has always been hard for her, I made sure of that.”

Sims didn’t see it at the time, but now says that Bria was molding her to not only become a better player, but a team leader as well.

“I can’t even say I accepted the role at the time,” Sims said. “I didn’t want to talk, I didn’t want to help anyone else out, I just wanted to make sure I was doing everything right because I knew I might possibly mess something up. But Coach Bria taught me how to get outside myself and encourage other people, to figure out everything that is going on, not just focus on your position or your own struggles.”

As Sims became more of a leader, her ability and her performance escalated as well.

“Since (her freshman year) she has really developed her game,” Bria said. “She can score off the bounce, she can post up. She can still shoot the three, she rebounds a lot better, and she blocks shots. She has just evolved into the well-rounded player as I always saw her.”

Now Sims is headed back to the Atlantic Sun Conference Championship with a chance to become a three-time league champion. As the lone senior on this year’s squad, Sims has played a valuable role teaching and setting an example for the Hatter freshmen to emulate later in their careers.

“I think because she has been in our program for four years, she has helped with the transition this year of our very young team,” Bria said. “I think this year she is the best player she has ever been, and we rely on her more than we have in the years past, and she has responded perfectly to it. We wouldn’t be having the success now without her response.”

A Star on the Rise for USC Upstate

By Bill English

Although just a sophomore, Brittany Starling has stepped into the role as the go-to player for the USC Upstate women’s basketball team.

By the time she ends her career, she has the potential to be one of the top players in the history of the program and could join the ranks of recent standouts Chelsea McMillan, Tee’Ara Copney and Courtney Hawkins.

Basketball is a team game and every coach will tell you that winning requires a team effort. There is no exception at Upstate. Head Coach Tammy George has assembled a solid team with players who have diverse talents, enabling the Spartans to battle every night in the A-Sun.

But, every night the Spartans take the court, the efforts of the competition are on Starling and shutting the super sophomore down, or at least limiting her productivity. She is the go-to player for Upstate.

A true power forward, she has the ability to shoot the mid-range jumper while possessing the physicality to battle down low. She led the A-Sun in field goal percentage as a freshman, ranked second on the team in scoring at 10.3 points per game and earned All-Freshman honors from the A-Sun in 2012-13.

She came into her own during A-Sun play last year and by season’s end became the focal point of the opposition even with standout Copney manning the perimeter.

Based on the body of work she put together as a freshman – four double-doubles in A-Sun play, double-digit scoring in 17 games, four games of 10 or more rebounds – she was selected as a preseason all-conference selection by the A-Sun coaches this year.

Despite the pressure of being the focal point of the opposition, Starling has not suffered the mythical sophomore slump and has assumed a leadership role on a diverse and talented team.

Starling is a physical education major and her long-term career goals are to coach and become a physical education instructor. With that as a backdrop, she approaches the game in two different ways, one as a player who possesses basketball ability and one as an aspiring coach with her head in the game.

The two approaches have helped her not only develop as a player, but in her leadership role on the team as well.

One player cannot win by herself. But, Brittany Starling has the ability to impact the game and give the Upstate Spartans that something special every team needs…performance and leadership from your go-to player.

Good Times for the Bears

By Jason Farhadi

All good things take time, and Mercer Head Coach Susie Gardner knows this better than most.

When she was hired to take over the program in June of 2010, it was a given that it would take a lot of time and hard work to turn things around. Gardner’s first two years at Mercer could be summarized with one word –  rebuilding. Despite winning only eight games during her first two seasons in Macon some positives came to light, as Briana Williams was named the Atlantic Sun Freshman of the Year in 2011 and became the first player to lead the A-Sun in scoring in back-to-back seasons since Jacksonville State’s Lisa Baswell accomplished the feat over 10 years ago.

Flash forward to the 2012-13 campaign and things didn’t get off to a good start for the Bears. Williams was lost for the season before the team’s first game and Mercer was picked to finish last in the A-Sun Conference Preseason Coaches’ poll.

Mercer shocked all the experts, however, by churning out a 20-12 season for its first 20-win campaign since 1991. The Orange and Black went 13-5 during A-Sun play, setting a new program record for most league wins in a single-season, on its way to a third-place regular season finish.
The Bears captivated the nation from early January to late February when they went on a 12-game winning streak, the longest for the program since the 1984-85 edition of the Bears won 14 consecutive games as a Division II member. Aided by the second-biggest turnaround in the country, based on total wins, Mercer capped off the season by earning the No. 1 seed in the 2013 Women’s Basketball Invitational for its first appearance in a nationally sponsored postseason tournament since 1985.

Several Bears also achieved significant individual achievements under Gardner’s direction during the 2012-13 season. Sophomore Precious Bridges and junior Kendra Grant were both named to the A-Sun All-Conference first team, the first time two Bears have made the first team since Andrea Congreaves and Jaana Sintonen were recognized in 1990-91. Junior point guard Sharnea Boykin also led the A-Sun and ranked fourth in the nation averaging 7.4 assists per game.

Good things do take time and the progress that the women’s basketball program has made as a whole is continuing to carry over into the 2013-14 season. Already this campaign, Mercer has tied the program record for non-conference wins in a season with seven, the most in a single-season since the 1995-96 season.

Mercer is also trying to win the most games over a two-year stretch since the 1990-91 and 1991-92 editions of the Bears won 38 contests in back-to-back seasons. With a group of veteran players on this year’s club and an experienced head coach, Gardner and the Bears are hoping that their time is finally here.

A Leader on the Court and in the Community

By André R. Trimmings

Basketball has always been the focal point of Lisa Capellan’s collegiate career. But as the year closes out for the redshirt-senior forward, what road will she travel next?

Capellan has been a leader on Kennesaw State University’s Women’s Basketball team since she began her career as an Owl in 2009. She has loved every minute of it, but always had in mind what she would do if continuing in basketball was not an option after college.

A criminal justice major, she grew up around family members who were in law enforcement, sparking her interest in becoming a police officer. Her willingness to help others and a kind heart have both played an important part in choosing a career path for the New York City native.

“I choose KSU’s campus police department for my internship because it is my community,” said Capellan. “These are the people who I would normally see, so that made it an easier transition for me.”

Over the course of the summer semester, Capellan was able to gain valuable hands-on experience with many different events because of the size of the university.

“Being a part of the fundraiser for the Special Olympics was a memorable moment for me,” said Capellan “I was also allowed to watch the riot squad training and shoot a little at the shooting range.”

While basketball is her current focus, she is also looking into finding a job after she graduates later this year. Capellan is hoping to find something in the local area, whether it is in Fulton or Smyrna County or even the City of Atlanta police department.

Once she has settled on where she wants to go, she is planning on joining the academy for two years, and eventually would like to become a detective.

“Being a detective and a basketball player both require you to be aware of your surroundings and manage your character,” said Capellan.” When people look up to you, you have to be able to maintain a certain standard and I feel basketball has taught me how to do that.”

More than Just Basketball

by Monyae Williamson

“Only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile.”

Many glean different meanings from the famous Albert Einstein quote, but they all circle around the same understanding. For Yolett McPhee-McCuin, the head coach of Jacksonville University’s team, she found the quote to mean the only way to find complete happiness in life is by helping and serving others.

The product of educators, service and the strong sense of community was ingrained in Coach McPhee-McCuin at a young age. Whether it was opening their home as a foster family or providing shelter to those new to the island and without a place to stay, the McPhees never hesitated to help anyone in need.

As a child, McPhee-McCuin remembers heading to basketball practice in the wee hours of the morning with her father, Gladstone “Moon” McPhee. Mr. McPhee, the winningest coach in Bahamian history, founded Helping Our Youth through Education and Sports (HOYTES) to provide sporting opportunity to children as well as to assist them in developing athletically and academically.

His initiative has helped hundreds of kids reach their goals both on and off of the court. Founded in 1986, HOYTES has aided in countless children receiving scholarships with a fair share of its students recruited to play collegiate basketball overseas. Coach McPhee-McCuin is also a graduate of the program and credits her success to her father’s work.

This season marks McPhee-McCuin’s first as a head coach and she has embodied her parents’ act of giving with monthly community service projects with the Dolphins.

“Community service is important to me because it gives our young ladies an opportunity to give back to others,” said McPhee-McCuin. “We try to focus on a wide range of service projects so that our young ladies are exposed to different people in the community. I think that any time you can put your priorities aside and focus on others, it makes you not only appreciate your circumstances but also encourages you to help others in the future.”

Her first effort with JU in July included a visit to the Hubbard House, a domestic violence center serving Duval and Baker counties.The Fins have also led a pep rally for reading at a local elementary school, worked in conjunction with the World Relief Center to host a “Fall Festival” for Burmese refugee children living in Jacksonville and visited the Potter’s House Christian Church to assist with their annual Thanksgiving Food Drive.

Hansen Gets It Done On and Off the Court

By Jamie Church

Sarah Hansen’s leadership and ability is evident on the court. She ranks as FGCU’s all-time leader in points, rebounds, steals and free-throws made, and is on pace to set at least three additional school records.

The senior captain also ranks among the league’s top all-time performers in points scored and rebounds and has picked up countless awards and accolades for her athletic performances. Along with the

But her leadership and prowess extend beyond the playing surface and into the classroom and the community.

As a chemistry major, mathematics minor and honors student, Hansen currently holds a cumulative grade point average of 3.92. The fifth-year student-athlete has received a perfect 4.0 in four semesters at FGCU and earned Dean’s list or higher distinction in every semester of her academic career. She also holds the distinction of being a three-time Atlantic Sun Scholar-Athlete of the Year.

Outside the classroom, Hansen boasts an impressive résumé of community service accomplishments and has compiled over 120 hours of service-learning experience during her time at FGCU. Hansen has dedicated her time to organizations that serve youth programs in the local Fort Myers area with projects that include:

• Working with Imaginarium of Fort Myers, an interactive museum and aquarium where she organized trips for pre-school aged children and assisted in the Autism classrooms at San Carlos Park Elementary School

• Organizing a prom-type event called the ‘Spring Bling’ at the Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida

• Developing a new tutoring program that involved FGCU Athletics and the Quality Life Center, an organization dedicated to creating a climate of opportunity for at-risk youth in the area

For her tremendous achievements, Hansen has been selected as a nominee for both the Senior CLASS Award and the WBCA Good Works Team.

From Walk-on to Starter

By Drew Weber

ETSU sophomore guard Chandler Christopher knows the value of hard work and the opportunities it can present.

The Greeneville High School product from nearby Greeneville, Tenn., compiled an impressive high school career with more than 1,000 points scored and secured all-region honors in each of her sophomore, junior and senior seasons.

When it came time to choose where she would continue her basketball talents at the collegiate level, the east Tennessee native chose to stay true to her roots and accepted a walk-on position at ETSU.

Playing in 12 games as a freshman walk-on in 2012-13, Christopher could routinely be spotted diving for loose balls and battling inside against the bigs for tough rebounds. In a limited 5.5 minutes per game throughout the season, the guard played with heart and left it all on the floor.

On first-year ETSU head coach Brittney Ezell’s second day in the office in May 2013, Christopher approached Ezell in business attire with résumé in hand stating her desire to be a scholarship player. After reviewing tape of the guard and noticing the qualities she possesses, Ezell elevated Christopher from walk-on to scholarship status over the summer.

It did not take long for Ezell to notice the toughness and intangibles the sophomore possesses.

“Chandler has definitely earned her keep as a scholarship player for us,” said Ezell. “She is the epitome of what our program is, and will continue to be, built on – teamwork and a blue-collar work ethic.”

To begin the 2013-14 season, the sophomore has quickly embraced her role and has been a vital piece for the Bucs. Christopher has started in each game this season and has taken advantage of the increased playing time with huge contributions to the team.

Christopher can still be found doing the dirty work that is not highlighted in the stat sheet like taking charges and throwing her body around, but the 5-foot-8 guard’s offensive game has also expanded.

Through the first four games this year, Christopher averaged 10.5 points per game and she remains a viable threat on offense for opposing defenses. The sophomore’s evolution from a bench player to a starter is not yet complete, but the strides she has made are clearly evident to her head coach.

“She is still growing into her role on the team, “ said Ezell. “Chandler has experienced some growing pains, but she is continuing to gain more confidence with each game.”

Meyer’s Impact Embraced by Lipscomb’s Greg Brown

Legendary coach Don Meyer has not walked the basketball court at Lipscomb University since the 1999-2000 season.

His name is painted on the court at Allen Arena. But his influence at Lipscomb is stronger than just a logo on a court. He has been a mentor for many of the athletic teams at Lipscomb. He coached the men’s team at Lipscomb, but his influence over the Lipscomb Lady Bisons’ basketball team is strongly felt through generations.

Head coach Greg Brown and assistant coach John Wild both were student assistants under Meyer at Lipscomb. Wild also played for Meyer. Assistant coach Cara Cahak attended Meyer’s camps.

Rick Bowers, the father of first-year Lipscomb assistant coach Anna Bowers, played for Meyer and is one of the top high school coaches in the state of Tennessee. Forward Chandler Cooper’s father, Al, was on Meyer’s teams as well. Alan Banks, the father of forward Alex Banks, also played for Meyer.

It’s a world of notebooks, picking up trash, treating people right and playing tough, fundamental basketball. Meyer’s coaching style and maxims of how to play basketball, as well as how to have a well-lived life, have been handed down from generation to generation.

Meyer has been a frequent visitor to practice sessions for the Lady Bisons. He has also met with the team on several occasions to talk about basketball techniques and life lessons.

“The challenge as a coach is to see the legacy continue,” Brown said. “It is great to see those who did not know him as a coach embrace him.  He says we are his team.”

Brown has also worked as an assistant for former Tennessee coach Pat Summitt and with Joi Williams at UCF.

“You are a sum total of your unique experiences,” Brown said. “After working at UT and UCF to come back to where it all started at Lipscomb was a no brainer.”

Brown feels the presence of Meyer on a daily basis.

“It is hard to go somewhere and not find someone who went to coach Meyer’s camps or a high coach who watched coach Meyer’s DVDs,” Brown said. “It lends credibility to what we are doing.

“I am not coach Meyer. I am not Pat. I am not Joi Williams. But I take all of those things they stand for culture-wise like simplicity of play, playing tough and playing hard to find the types of players and build the type of environment that we want.”

For Brown the coaching philosophy of Meyer did not require a great amount of adjustment.

“Growing up I took notes watching Boston Celtics games,” Brown said. “I thought I was going to be the next Larry Bird. Between him and Kevin McHale I was going to morph my game into theirs.

“When I got here as a student the notebooks were already part of my culture. After I met coach Meyer and worked camps I saw that he did all of that. The analytical side just appealed to me.”

Brown is in his second season as the head coach for the Lady Bisons. He believes, like Meyer, that it is about what the team will be doing the next year, the next five years or the next 10 years.

“It is all about the toughness of play, intensity and being servant leaders,” Brown said. “It is about having a team attitude centered on the pursuit of excellence.

“The main thing is teaching and developing skills. You are not building a team, you are building a program. That approach sometimes makes it difficult because you don’t always get the results you want right away. But you are encouraged when you see a lot of growth. It is a process.”

More than the game
Anna Bowers didn’t realize growing up that many of the things her father said were based on what coach Meyer had told him.

But as she has matured she has seen the strong connection between Meyer and her father.

“Where he learned the game, and how he learned how to be the coach that he is, comes from coach Meyer,” Anna said. “He has developed a lot of his own stuff, but it is very clear the correlation between coach Meyer and Dad through their coaching styles and what they demand from people.

“They are not just coaching to coach. It is not just about the game. It is about the players and developing character. That is one of the things that is most important in coach Meyer’s philosophy.  I’ve seen it with coach Brown and my Dad. The game is the game. That is our job but it is all about the kids and it is a lot deeper than playing basketball.”

Anna grew up with coach Meyer being a frequent visitor at her house. Chandler did not meet coach Meyer in person until she came to Lipscomb this year to play basketball.

“I was very much anxious to meet him,” Cooper said. “I had heard about him all of my life. He was what I expected. The similarities between my Dad and him, how both of them interact with and talk to people, were so eerie to see.

“I had heard about coach Meyer my whole life. My Dad had respect for him. When I heard him talk for the first time here I was choked up. I was proud. I represent Lipscomb, but I represent a foundation that he has built. I want to uphold that the best I can and keep it going to make sure people know where I learned this.”

Chandler transferred from Florida after her freshman season. The familiarity with coach Meyer’s style, and the influence he has had on Brown, made the transition simpler for her.

“It made it easier to pick up on the concepts here,” Chandler said. “It was the same way I was coached growing up – the same terminology and the same way you are expected to play. “

A comfortable familiarity
Chandler and Alex often know what Brown is going to say before he says it.

“It is really funny listening to coach Brown say things,” Chandler said. “In my mind I think, `my Dad used to say that’. In theory it is all coach Meyerisms.

“I think it is so cool. It all comes back to coach Meyer. Alex and I have talked about how cool it is to be part of the second generation.”

Alex vividly recalls her first in-person encounter with Meyer. Her father let her skip school to come to Lipscomb for a book signing with Meyer and ESPN sports reporter and analyst Buster Olney, who authored a book on Meyer entitled “How Lucky You Can Be”.

“I had learned from coach Meyer literally my entire life,” Alex said. “It was awesome to meet him for the first time. I started tearing up.

“I learned almost pretty much everything from him about basketball and life. I remember when I was trying to figure out where I wanted to go to college. From memory coach Meyer wrote four or five Bible verses in my book when he signed it.  He told me to go read them. It was exactly what I needed to hear at the time.”

Ironically, the saying of coach Meyer that Alex remembers the most has nothing to do with how to play basketball.

“The biggest one is pick up the trash,” Alex said. “We should leave a place prettier than it was when we got there.”

Alex and Chandler are always trying to reach the expectations that have been set by coach Meyer’s philosophy.

“I feel like it is how I have been raised,” Alex said. “There are standards like doing the little things and being nice to everyone. It isn’t pressure to do it, but it is expected.

“Whenever he speaks to us we are hanging on every single word he says. He has been through so much. He is so wise. We are all ears. We are all listening.”

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Bears Seniors Saunter Into Next Step of Journey

For two consecutive seasons, Mercer men’s basketball let opportunities to celebrate winning the A-Sun Championship and claiming the A-Sun’s NCAA Tournament berth on its home floor slip away. 

Those slips included a loss last season to eventual Sweet 16 participant FGCU after claiming the A-Sun’s regular season title and earning the No. 1 seed as host. 

Before today, it has also been 29 years since the Bears participated in the NCAA Tournament, the last in 1985. That drought is also now over. 

There was no slip-up today, as the Mercer victory on the road in Dunk City in front of a raucos, standing room only crowd will be special for many reasons to Mercer faithful. For a group of seven seniors, however, the journey is not complete. 

To every Bear certainly this win is special. But ask seniors Kevin Canevari, Langston Hall, Bud Thomas, Daniel Coursey, Anthony White Jr., Monty Brown and Jakob Gollon what this win means, and you get an even deeper explanation of its meaning. 

"For our seven seniors, we have this long storied history with three winningest seasons in school history, the CIT title and last year’s NIT win, but the one thing we didn’t have was an NCAA berth." Jakob Gollon said. "We thought last year was our year on our home court. We knew coming back into this arena and atmosphere would be a great chance for us. For me I think it is a great last chapter to be written in our story."

Mercer is one of the few teams in the country to typically have five seniors in its starting lineup, and four of them have been regular starters since their sophomore seasons. They are led by the 2014 A-Sun Player of the Year Langston Hall, who became the A-Sun’s career leader in assists in Thursday’s double-overtime win against USC Upstate.  

Hall is one leader in the group of seven who continue to make their mark and extend the most successful span in Mercer program history. Propelled by this group, the Bears have won 91 games in the last four years, including three straight seasons of 20+ wins, along with claiming at least a share of two regular season titles. Two years ago Mercer claimed the 2012 CIT title, and last season they knocked off the SEC’s Tennessee Volunteers in the NIT before falling to Brigham Young in the second round. No doubt they are ready for this trip to the NCAA. 

"Last year, I said that I thought FGCU could go in and win games in the NCAA Tournament and we would have done the same if we had won," Mercer's Head Coach Bob Hoffman remarked. "I just felt really good about our team and I think the same thing is going to happen this year. We are going to come ready to play in the NCAA."

This season Mercer relied heavily on its experience as the Bears did not shy away from difficult non-conference tests, giving them mixed results prior to conference play. The Bears played at Texas and Oklahoma, dropping both but only falling only by three to the Longhorns. Mercer rebounded and claimed nice non-conference wins including a triple-overtime win at Valparaiso and a three-point win at Ole Miss. 

There is no shortage of individual talent among this group. Hall, Thomas and Coursey each have tallied more than 1,000 points in their career, and Coursey led the A-Sun’s top defense as the 2014 Defensive Player of the Year. Gollon also topped the conference in academics, earning membership to the A-Sun Academic All-Conference team and Scholar-Athlete of the Year honors. White has also scored 42 points in the Bears’ last two games, including 29 against Jacksonville in the quarterfinal. 

As you would imagine the group is a tight-knit one, one that truly cares for each other. Prior to the final regular season game against Jacksonville, Hall and Coursey both approached Head Coach Bob Hoffman and asked that two senior teammates who don’t receive as much playing time get the starts. Hoffman agreed, and Canevari started for Hall and Brown for Coursey. The Bears won the game and clinched a share of the 2014 regular season title with defending champ FGCU. 

Even with the results, Hall admits that the journey has not always been a smooth one for him or this group of leaders. They, like all young players, have matured and grown together. He says they have positively impacted the program, and each senior’s contribution is why he says they are where they are today. 

“I think we brought something new to Mercer, playing as a team, because we didn’t always have the most talented team out there,” said Hall. 

“We learned that quickly, as we didn’t have a good freshman year. In our sophomore year that made us come together, play more as a team and put more emphasis on defense. We had to listen to the coaching staff a lot more, because we tried to do it our way and we lost a lot of games that way. When we started doing it their way, we really started putting things together and came together as a team. 

No doubt that this senior-laden Bears team has it together, as now they will collectively saunter into NCAA March Madness together.  

Friday, March 7, 2014

Mercer/USC Upstate Matchup Ripe with Leadership

Entering tonight’s A-Sun Championship Semifinal between Mercer and USC Upstate, no one expected anything but a quality contest.

And why should they? Two of the A-Sun’s most experienced teams took the floor to face each other for the second time in as many years in a semifinal, dressing 11 seniors whose impact on their teams and the A-Sun have been evident the past four years.

Combined they represent 152 wins and more than a dozen All-Conference and All-Tournament honors.

The 2014 A-Sun Player of the Year, Langston Hall, leads a group of seven Mercer seniors who continue to make their mark and extend the most successful span in Mercer program history. The Bears have won 90 games in the last four years, including three straight seasons of 20+ wins and will most certainly participate for a third consecutive season in postseason play.

Hall is clear that his recognition this season paints a clear picture of what the Bears have been able to accomplish.

“Player of the Year is special not because of me, but because of the team. You are never going to get A-Sun Player of the Year if you are on a bad team, so it just shows what a special season we have had, particularly being co-champs of the league with FGCU.”

Mercer’s impactful group includes Hall, Kevin Canevari, Bud Thomas, Anthony White Jr., Jakob Gollon, Monty Brown and Daniel Coursey. Hall, Thomas and Gollon all have scored 1,000+ points in their careers, and you have to look no further than this season and in particular Tuesday’s win against Jacksonville to see this group’s impact.

Hall tallied 10 assists against Jacksonville, tying the A-Sun career record, and became the A-Sun’s career leader in assists tonight in the first half. Thomas led the charge in the first half of Tuesday’s game, knocking down three straight three-pointers in the first half of the quarterfinal win. White joined in and tallied his career high of 29 points to lead all scorers.

Gollon was the 2014 A-Sun Scholar-Athlete of the Year, and Coursey added 2014 Defensive Player of the Year honors and sits in fourth place on the conference’s career list in blocks.
“It has been a special four years playing with these guys,” said Hall. “I love playing with them on the court and love hanging with them off the court. I think we brought something new to Mercer, playing as a team, because we didn’t always have the most talented team out there.

“We learned that as we didn’t have a good freshman year. In our sophomore year that made us come together, play more as a team and put more emphasis on defense. We had to listen to the coaching staff a lot more, because we tried to do it our way and we lost a lot of games that way. When we started doing it their way, we really started putting things together and came together as a team.”

The Bears claimed the CIT Championship in 2012, a win that still stands out in Hall’s mind.

“The CIT run that we had my sophomore year was very special,” Hall said. “For about the next year and a half, every time I would watch video of it I would get goosebumps. That was the first championship I have ever won, so it was very special.”

Last season the Bears advanced to the second round of the NIT in 2013, but a trip to the NCAA would suit Hall and his teammates.

“This group is definitely special to me, we are all going to be like brothers for the rest of our lives,” Hall added. We have made a special bond here these last four years. You never know who is going to step up each game. We have a lot of people who can go out and score 20 points, we don’t have to count on one person every night.

“Each one of the seniors is different, but we are all the same too, we all care about winning. That is the most important thing to us. We all just try to work hard outside of the game and then in the games just play as hard as we can. Jake, myself and Anthony White are the vocal leaders. And Anthony has really done a great job this year, stepping up in his play and in his leadership. That makes it much easier for me particularly.”

For USC Upstate, the senior leadership comes from Ricardo Glenn, Torrey Craig, Jodd Maxey and Babatunde Olumuyiwa. With this group the Spartans have won 61 games in the last four years, including a 21-win season in 2011-12 when Craig enjoyed A-Sun Player of the Year honors.

Craig has perennially been among the conference leaders in scoring, but he remembers when things weren’t going so well for him and the Spartans.

“It means a lot to be in this position at this point in my career, said Craig. “As a freshman we won five games, but we have gotten better every year. My sophomore year we won 20 games, and we have continued to improve as a team. It has been a journey with these guys, and I am going to miss them.”

Two years ago the Spartans also enjoyed success in the College Insider Tournament, knocking off Kent State before falling in the second round to Old Dominion. This season the Spartans picked up big non-conference wins against Virginia Tech and South Carolina, games that Maxey says are two of the biggest memories he will take away from his career in Spartanburg.

Even though the Spartans struggled early in the A-Sun season, Head Coach Eddie Payne leaned on the seniors and they responded, leading the Spartans to wins in seven of the last 10 games, including an 80-61 victory against Mercer in Spartanburg.

“Beating Mercer by 19 at home a couple of weeks ago was one of the biggest wins we have had, and for me upsetting Belmont at the buzzer was another great win and memory,” said Craig.

“As for our relationship with Coach Payne, every year he is on us.,” said Craig. “He encourages us, and finds ways to motivate us to play harder. He is an animated coach, and you can tell that he loves the game of basketball. If we lose he can’t sleep, if we win he is all energetic. I think he has rubbed off on us, because now when we have started to act like him after a win or a loss.”

For Hall, he appreciates how his relationship with Coach Bob Hoffman has changed over the course of his career.

“When I first got here he talked to me and my answer was ‘yes sir,’ and the communication was really one-way, said Hall. Now he trusts me a lot to call plays and break off plays. At times we can talk about things and I can talk back to him and he will listen to my input, whereas as a freshman he talked and I listened.”

With any good senior leadership, you would expect that they impact the younger players, and both of these groups have done just that.

“I think we set a great example for the younger guys,” says Hall. “I know when I came to college, I really didn’t know how hard you had to work. We come in every day and work hard, and come in on our off time and get in extra shots. I think that sets a really good example.”

“I would say the biggest impact that we have had on younger players is on their work ethic,” said Craig. “Staying in the summer, lifting, doing what you are supposed to do on and off the court, going to class – they follow us and take our leadership.”

It has been said that familiarity breeds contempt, but not so particularly for Hall and Craig. With mutual respect they have battled each other gallantly on the court, but off the court they have become friends and often hit each other up on Twitter. 

“I am pretty cool with Langston off the court, and we talk on social media,” said Craig. “As for the others, they seem pretty cool as well, but when you are on the court it is all business.”

Thursday, March 6, 2014

FGCU's Dirty Birds All About Defending the Nest

Florida Gulf Coast men’s basketball is not the only team to be reckoned with when you come to play in Dunk City.

Now some 1,500 members strong, FGCU’s “Dirty Birds” provide the Eagles what senior Chase Fieler calls the “best home court advantage in the A-Sun.”

“They change some of the dynamics of the game,” says Fieler. “They have backed us all year and in my opinion we definitely have the best home court advantage.

“I don’t think that the conference has ever seen a home court advantage like we have right now, particularly with the amount of students turning out. And it is not just for the bigger games, we had a sold out crowd against Ave Maria at the beginning of the year. They have been unbelievable.”

The Dirty Birds began as a student spirit group that was part of the school’s office of student involvement. However four years ago the athletic department gave the group a home and that is when they really began to take flight.

Enticements for membership, which is $10 during the summer and $20 once school begins, include early admission to games for the best seats, gear such as t-shirts, sunglasses and stickers, and discounts at local sponsors. “We push the value of the Dirty Birds because if you went to the bookstore and bought a shirt, you would pay the price of membership or more,” says Montecalvo.

The Dirty Birds certainly do not sit on their laurels, as during the summer the Dirty Birds occupy a place on the orientation agenda as well, during which they conduct “Dunk City 101,” indoctrinating future students on FGCU athletics with videos, highlights from FGCU’s NCAA run last season, and more. Then in the fall, they host Revolution, another opportunity to “recruit” memberships and show up in force of each of FGCU’s men’s and women’s home events.

“After our run last year it really pulled the community into our school.,” said Fieler. “I absolutely believe that we have become Southwest Florida’s home school. I am a member of the Dirty Birds. I have always been someone who loved to go to other sports and watch them, and I think that is why I have been recognized for being in them because I am always on the front row, cheer with them and I have a lot of friends now that have met through this and formed a bond.

In a student section designed to hold 1500 students, the Dirty Birds typically take up more than 1100 seats for a home basketball game. For Tuesday night’s game against Stetson, more than 900 Dirty Birds took their place in Alico Arena and cheered, jeered and propelled the Eagles on the semifinals of the 2014 A-Sun Men’s Basketball Championship.

So how do you get students of a school located five minutes from the beach to stay on campus for basketball games during spring break?

“If you walk around campus right now, it is dead, and frankly we were a little concerned about that,” says Gabby Monecalvo of the Dirty Birds. “But many have jobs in the area and so they can’t leave, and others just stay here for spring break because the beach is just five minutes away.”

The Dirty Birds also conducted their first Staycation Campaign, encouraging those students who were remaining in town to attend the games while providing other incentive for turning out to maintain Dunk City’s home court advantage.

“Everywhere we go in conference there is no comparison to the Dirty Birds. I know when we were at North Florida they had one of their best crowds of the year and it wasn’t even close to the Dirty Birds,” Fieler adds.

“They are diligent and they do their homework. When other teams come in they know stuff about them and the coach, and they are constantly on them. It is hard to concentrate on the game when someone is on you all of the time. They do a good job and they are very persistent. No matter the score, they are staying until the end of the game and give the other team a hard time. It makes it tough to play.”

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Team-First Philosophy Paying Off for Ospreys

by Tom Yelich

University of North Florida men’s basketball head coach Matthew Driscoll has the Ospreys moving in the right direction. Entering his fifth season at the helm, Driscoll hasn’t skipped a beat following the departure of the 2012-13 senior class, the winningest class in program history (57 wins).

The 2013-14 Ospreys got off to their best start in program history, winning their 10th game against Stetson, Jan.11, the fastest an Osprey team has reached the double-digit win mark in the program’s nine-year Division I era. In addition, UNF raced out to its best start in Atlantic Sun Conference play, including opening the seaosn with three consecutive victories.

The Ospreys have done so with eight newcomers on the 2013-14 roster. The new additions have meshed extremely well with returning seniors Travis Wallace and Charles McRoy, sophomore Demarcus Daniels and 2012-13 Atlantic Sun All-Freshman team selection Beau Beech. Besides adding an element of youth to the North Florida line-up, the new additions have raised the athleticism and competitiveness of the squad as well.

“When you are replacing a group like our senior class last year,” said Driscoll. “You need to find not only tough-minded incoming freshmen, but also a group of talented competitive winners that can withstand and overcome the challenges of being young. This group has surpassed those expectations ten-fold. I’ve said all season that this is the most competitive and resilient group of players I have ever coached.”

UNF possess an unselfish, team-oriented attitude. Against Webber International during the preseason, the Ospreys set a Division I school record scoring 109 points, with five players hitting double figures and all 11 players notching at least five points and playing over 10 minutes.

Perhaps what makes this team more special than in years past is the ability for Driscoll to count on a different player on any given night. The newcomers have given the Ospreys incredible depth, with nine players giving at least 13 minutes per game and no player averaging more than 30 minutes per game. Additionally, all 11 players have scored in double digits in at least one game this year.

“From our workouts in the summer, this group of newcomers showed a very competitive attitude,” said Wallace, a Preseason Atlantic Sun All-Conference honoree. “As a returning player, my goal was to try and set a strong example, and these guys came right in and followed and believed in the things we wanted to do to reach our goals.”

UNF has the right mix of leadership and youth, experience and eagerness, athleticism and competitiveness. This team is built for the present as well as the future. North Florida continues to grow and has shifted gears with a more aggressive, determined attitude.

The 2013-14 Ospreys have their sights set on their first A-Sun Championship. No longer wanting to just maintain and compete, this team is itching to dance come March.

Hoffman’s Seven Senior Bears

By Andrew Stabell

How much can one say about leadership?

Can leadership make the difference between a winning season and an average one? If you had all the talent in the world, with no leaders to define the character of a team, would they be successful?

In Bob Hoffman’s world, the answer is clear. A defined committee of leaders can bring you to unprecedented heights. Hoffman’s belief is rooted in reality, as he’s presided over the most prosperous four-year stretch in over 100 years of Mercer basketball.

Behind the success is a cache of battle tested seniors, who’ve cut their teeth as leaders under Hoffman’s watch.

The 2013-14 season marks the end of an odyssey for the seven-member Mercer senior class, a grizzled collection who’ve spent the last four years learning to be leaders while trail-blazing a new era of prosperity for Mercer men’s basketball.

The journey began as freshmen in the 2010-11 season, when players by the names of Langston Hall, Bud Thomas, Daniel Coursey, Monty Brown and Jakob Gollon cracked into starting lineups. A year later, the group was forging a run in the Tournament, earning valuable experience while capturing the Atlantic Sun Conference’s first postseason tournament championship. Their journey continued in 2013, when the core group – now seven strong as upperclassmen – led the Orange and Black to the A-Sun Finals and ultimately to the National Invitation Tournament (NIT) Round of 16.

Before their final go-around this season, Mercer’s seven-member senior class has made a name for itself. The Bears have knocked off a slew of high-majors, including wins over Seton Hall and Ole Miss this season. These wins have become almost routine for these seniors, who’ve made national publicity and recognition from renowned college basketball pundits a practical norm.

Destined to become the winningest class in program history, the group has spent this season oriented by Hoffman’s maxim of “Path.”  Where the Path leads has yet to be determined, but if preparation truly is the key to success, the senior-laden Bears are destined for a storybook ending.

One of the final chapters in the story will be written in the 2014 Atlantic Sun Championship, where the group attempts to achieve the ultimate goal – leading Mercer back to the NCAA tournament for the first time in nearly 30 years.

Anderson’s Experience Invaluable for Dolphins

By Alex Keil

Working in the world of college basketball can take you a lot of places. For Don Anderson, his career as a player and coach have sent him across the mid-Atlantic and Northeast for a number of years before coming to Jacksonville University where he works on the staff of his former pupil, Cliff Warren.

After graduating from Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pa., in 1982, Anderson only had to make a short trip down the road for his first coaching gig. Gettysburg College was looking for an assistant and the recent college grad was eager to get started in the profession. After three seasons, Anderson moved up the bench and took over as the head coach of the Bullets, spending four years in charge of the Division III program.

Following the 1988-89 campaign, a chance came to move up to the Division I level as an assistant at Mount St. Mary’s. Though it meant a change of address and a new start, the two schools were similar in size and were only 20 minutes apart from each other across the Pennsylvania-Maryland border.

Anderson would go on to spend the next 12 seasons as an assistant to Jim Phelan, the legendary man in charge of the Mountaineers program who spent 49 years at the school. It was in Anderson’s first season at The Mount where he would meet Warren, a senior on the team. Warren graduated and moved into the private sector, but eventually made his way to coaching and began his career at Mount St. Mary’s while pursuing his Master’s degree.

“He (Warren) had a lot to give in the profession,” said Anderson. “Having him come back turned into a really good situation.”

Leaving Mount St. Mary’s following the 2001-02 season, Anderson would go on to be an assistant coach at Coppin State, Maryland-Baltimore County and Binghamton over the next decade. It was at the conclusion of the 2011-12 season when the offer came from Warren to make the move to Jacksonville as the Director of Basketball Operations.

At JU, Anderson is “the UPS guy,” handling the logistics of travel, meals, hotels and whatever else is required to have the players and everyone associated with the program on the same page throughout the season. He also handles the community service initiatives that the Dolphins participate in throughout the year. In the past two years, Jacksonville coaches and players have gone out and volunteered at senior homes, elementary schools, in community gardens and at soup kitchens, among others.

“We want to make sure that we’re out in the community and that the community knows who we are outside of basketball.”

The ‘Golden Boy’ Of Dunk City

By Jason MacBain

The nation knows him as a member of Dunk City. Fans know him as FGCU’s only senior. The locals he served food to over the summer know him simply as Chase. But Chase Fieler’s teammates have bestowed on him the most appropriate name yet – “The Golden Boy.”

The Golden Boy is also the All-American Boy, and it starts with his humility. He laughs off the ‘Golden Boy’ nickname. Ask him about being voted as the Atlantic Sun’s Preseason Player of the Year by the fans and he’ll tell you it’s a great honor but it wouldn’t be possible without his teammates.

Those same teammates have him as a captain one year after helping FGCU become the first-ever No. 15 seed to advance to the Sweet Sixteen, captivating a nation with its high-flying aerial attack and putting the Fort Myers-based school on the map. FGCU went on to win an ESPY for ‘Best Upset’ and Fieler was on stage in Los Angeles in June to accept the award.

It could have all gone to his head. Instead, he’s done the exact opposite of what his playing style would indicate – stay grounded. He went home to West Virginia this summer and did the same thing he’s done every summer: work at a sports center. After that, he returned to campus to participate in offseason workouts … and work as a waiter at Cheddar’s Casual Café down the street from the beach-lined, resort-style campus.

Why? If you ask Fieler it’s because he knows the sacrifices his parents made for him growing up, and it was an easy way to relieve some financial stress on them.

His peers don’t just look up to Fieler because he’s 6-8. He’s the rare student-athlete who backs up his sometimes wise-cracking words. A member of the Dirty Birds – FGCU’s student fan organization – since the group’s founding, you can often find Fieler right in the middle of the pack, adorned in the same gear as his peers and leading the vocal charges.

Ask Associate Head Coach Marty Richter who he wants his soon-to-be-born child to grow up and be like. He’ll tell you Chase Fieler. If that’s the case, he’ll turn out to be a model citizen. He might even be able to dunk a little, too.