March madness is right around the corner, which means college basketball players are gearing up to make their mark on the postseason hardwood. Itâs a particularly exciting time for the Birmingham-Southern College menâs basketball team. Theyâre poised for a strong tournament run. But as WBHM intern Kenan Le Parc reports, the teamâs success comes in spite of several big challenges.
Itâs game night at Birmingham-Southern College. The BSC menâs basketball team has a comfortable lead as the clock runs down. Their win over Center College is one of many on the teamâs way to a regular season conference title. Theyâll host the conference tournament which starts this Friday. Player Blaise White is pumped for this home court advantage:
âWeâve won I think 42 straight games in here, obviously thatâs a huge confidence booster for us, and we feel like anybody that comes in here, weâre going to win. So weâre pretty excited about it.â
This tournament has extra meaning. Six years ago, Birmingham-Southern made the switch from NCAA Division 1 athletics to Division 3. Because of that change, the team was banned from postseason play. Now, for the first time in six years, BSC is able to compete beyond the regular season.
During the ban, the BSC menâs basketball team has been very competitive. Still, a successful return to full play was not a sure thing. At the end of last season, head coach Mitch Cole left to join the staff at Texas A&M. In addition to losing their coach, the team lost four seniors, and two important players transferred. Player Zac Richards is a bit torn:
âCoach Cole is a great coach, and we miss him. But weâre really excited about coach Graves.â
Assistant coach Chris Graves took over the program. Such a transition might derail a teamâs progress but Graves didnât change the playbook. Birmingham-Southernâs success on the court is built on a deep bench. In fact, itâs almost as if the team has two full sets of starters. Whenever the first group needs a rest, Graves pulls them out and sends the second group in. That way, they wear opponents down. Itâs also why, out of the 18-player roster, almost 10 of them scored above 100 points this season.
Coach Graves explains: âWe play 10 guys double-digit minutes, which is really a rarity in college basketball. We press the whole game, push the ball up and down. â
Birmingham-Southern has a 24-1 record and the basketball world has noticed. The team is now ranked 8th in the country in Division Three. Again, Coach Graves:
âWeâre excited about that ranking first of all. Itâs the first time weâve been eligible to be ranked this season. Weâve spent the entire season in the top 25 and gradually moving up.â
Thatâs great momentum for Birmingham-Southern as it heads into the conference tournament. Zac Richards says with a win there, âwe could potentially host the first round or two of the NCAA tournament. Thatâs what our goal is right now.â
An exciting prospect for a team bouncing back from what turned out to be only temporary bumps.
~ Kenan Le Parc, February 24, 2011