April 11th, 2010
On Friday evening, the men’s basketball team held their banquet which featured the premier of two videos and a tribute to senior Austin Twine. And signaled the end of the most remarkable season of basketball in EMU history. I hope that many of you were following the team as they made their way through the regular season which included beating two different #1 teams in the nation, Randolph-Macon and Guilford, won the ODAC regular season title, made the NCAA tournament and got to host the first two rounds and got to the Elite Eight, finally losing in the championship game of the Sectional Tournament. And in case you didn’t find out yet, they ended up 4th in the final national poll.
It was just an unbelievable year with so many accomplishments and records set that it is impossible to determine which is most impressive. The year also included our first All-American in men’s basketball and Coach Kirby Dean was honored as the ODAC Coach of the Year and the South Region Coach of the Year. As an athletic director I know that Kirby deserved everyone of those awards. There isn’t a harder working basketball coach in the ODAC. He is relentless in recruiting, practice and game preparation and instilling discipline and unselfish play in his players. I know it is the players who play between the lines and Kirby will pass the credit to them, but we all know that it starts with the coach. Coaches take the criticism when they lose and they deserve to take the credit when they win. I am very proud of Kirby and his staff.
For those who followed the team in person or on the web, there will be many memories from the season. I’ll share just a few of mine. First is the unselfish play of the players. With six players of very equal talent and ability, it is amazing that they played so unselfishly. At the beginning of the year, they set their goal to win games regardless of who scored or who got the recognition. They were aware that on any given night one of them could score 20 or 30 points, and some nights they all scored 15. It didn’t matter as long as they won, and win they did.
The second memory is that none of them were afraid to have the ball at the end. There wasn’t a “go-to” guy and any one of the six players were comfortable taking the last shot or defending the best opposing player on their last play. I attribute that to their realization that while basketball is important, it doesn’t define who they are. Made or missed shot, win or lose the game, they knew that their worth and value as a person was not determined by making the shot or winning the game. That belief begins with the relationship to their families and is affirmed by the coaches and demonstrated by the fans.
Both of those qualities will serve them well in their future beyond college and I count it a privilege to be associated with such a great group of guys. And they made all of EMU proud with their play and their character.
The final memory of the basketball season is the near epidemic of “Royal Fever” that broke out on campus, in the local community and in many states. The hits on the website rose over 1000% from last year. The stands were full from mid-season on for all games. Groups of alumni gathered together to watch games on the web with one group even taking time out of their ski trip in Colorado to gather around the computer. For some it was their first encounter with EMU. What I want them to take away is that men’s basketball is one of only many programs of excellence here at EMU. While sports should not be the focal point of an educational institution, it can open the door and windows to all the good that exists on this campus and in good people who study, teach and work here.
I’ll be sharing more in the future as we reflect on a season to remember.