March 6, 2014
By now, you must have heard that LaGrange College’s Men’s Basketball Team won the USA South Conference Championship, defeating Huntingdon in overtime by 10 points, to clinch their first tournament championship since 1975.
But that’s only part of the story.
Seeing competitive collegiate men’s basketball is nothing new to me. After all, I was raised in El Paso, Texas, and got to meet Coach Don Haskins, featured in the movie “Glory Road,” as well as play in the summer league high school basketball games coached by his players and other local talented players. Seeing UTEP make the NCAA tournament and win the WAC on several occasions was a thrill.
It was much the same at Marquette University, where the team made the NCAA Sweet 16 while I was there in graduate school; they beat Rick Pitino’s Kentucky Wildcats in the process. While at Florida State University, I was introduced to ACC basketball, and was thrilled to see the team make the NCAA and even become the NIT runner-up one season.
But those days have been replaced by LaGrange College. Though none of them may be as nationally ranked or will play in the NBA as many others I’ve seen, these guys may be a little more important, not just for the college, but for the community. Here’s why.
Throughout this season, the players have been bringing in local kids to see the games. These players try to serve as positive role models. It’s a thrill to see them posing for pictures with the college players, even though none will probably have their own “Topps” basketball card.
Some have excelled in class. I asked one to have his paper sent to the class as an example of what a good scholarly review of an analytical article for a service learning project should look like. He himself needed help on this assignment last year, but this year, he’s the class leader.
Another struggled on a paper, and sent me an email expressing his frustrations with the course. He agreed to meet with me, got to see where he needed to improve, and gave me an unnecessary apology (as his tone was upset though professional). His final project turned in (a statistical analysis) was one of the better ones.
Two others volunteered to work a little extra to improve their class performance, building graphs instead of downloading them, for a class research project that’s involved in a national competition. Another pair worked as poll workers last year for Troup County as part of a class about the 2012 election. One was working so hard processing ballots that he didn’t know I was standing next to him, chatting with his supervisor who was singing his praises.
And their coach, Kendal Wallace, spent an hour of the day before leaving for Tennessee for the tournament with his players (white and black) as they read essays and poetry for the African American Reading Chain to a packed classroom.
Did all of these events contributed to the three big wins in the USA South Conference Championship and their advancement to the NCAA Division III Tournament? Probably not. But they contributed to the character of the players and their coach, and make the team just a little more special in what happens beyond collegiate basketball.