7:40am. The school cafeteria doors are about to open. A handful of students wait outside. Wearing sweatpants and sporting fancy headphones, some alert and grooving, while others look like they are ready to roll back into bed, the students are not your typical early-morning breakfasters. These students are members of the UNC Asheville basketball team.
Every morning of the school year, the UNC Asheville basketball team eats breakfast together. It doesn’t matter if the season is about to start, or if it is the last day of school; the players make the early-morning trek to grab an omelet or some cereal with their teammates and their coaches. During breakfast they joke around, do homework, or chat with incoming students, as Coach B.’s cell phone gives off a cheery whistle every few minutes. This is just one example of the camaraderie and connection this team consciously works to develop. In the afternoons, one is likely to see the seniors in the gym shooting hoops and scrimmaging long before practice begins. After practice, the players walk through campus, chatting with classmates and friends outside the team, but everyone knows that the basketball team is a tight-knit group.
UNC Asheville’s men’s basketball team has a lot to be proud of. With a new basketball arena and high expectations going into the season, the team delivered. Their chemistry and exciting play drew students and the community to each new game. They dominated conference games and packed the stands for the conference tournament. Asheville students became accustomed to twenty-point leads. When the team was selected for the NCAA tournament, the school and community celebrated with the team.
But, basketball is not the only thing that Asheville’s team can be proud of. Representing such a small school, the players battled snide remarks about being “inconsequential” or an easy game for other “great” schools to run over. They dealt with this while simultaneously practicing hard and maintaining their academics. Few in the world of the NCAA or ESPN recognize how strong players from small schools must be to prove themselves on a national level.
Here are some reminders:
UNC Asheville athletes succeed because of talent, not height.
UNC Asheville athletes attend and participate in class, they do not have tutors to complete their homework, or lenient school officials that allow them to fudge their academic record. Class work at a small school is difficult!
UNC Asheville athletes don’t receive benefits from boosters or even have guaranteed fans, this year’s team earned each new fan with good play.
UNC Asheville athletes fought for every minute of TV time by spending time on and off the court with one another. Congratulations to the Bulldogs for an amazing season!