Part VI — last one — in a series about the NCAA Men’s Division 3 basketball tournament

FORT WAYNE, IND. — “This season was about as picture perfect from a coach’s perspective as you can draw up.”

One sentence from Coach Kyle Brumett of Wabash in the post-game interview stood out among all other comments which both the winning and losing coaches made in the NCAA Division III national semi-final games on Friday night.

L to R: Wabash’s Tyler Watson, Jack Davidson, Coach Kyle Brumett and Dillon Bender of host Manchester at the post-game news conference following the Little Giant’s 90-68 loss Friday night.

Here’s a link to the post-game presser: Here is a link to the presser: https://t.co/zsPYey4gRZ

For Wabash and Marietta, two rising programs whose combined season records were 57-7, their campaigns are done. The two teams squaring off in the national finals later today, Randolph-Macon and Elmhurst, played like buzzsaws yesterday. Randolph-Macon eliminated the Pioneers 81-63 in the opening game, and the Little Giants fell to Elmhurst 90-68 in the second contest.

Among the four teams playing in Fort Wayne last night, Wabash stood out because none of the top coaches or Division III basketball elite had expected the Little Giants to be here. After all, the team had a 6-6 mark in the Covid-shortened 2020-21 year, and had never captured a North Coast Athletic Conference (NCAC) title before now. If your mind went to Division III Playoffs and the NCAC, you always thought of Wooster (18 appearances in a row) or Wittenberg, or both.

Upset after upset marked Wabash’s advance to Allen County War Memorial Coliseum. The Little Giants ousted top-seed and highly favored Emory University 87-86 in Atlanta on March 5. Two games later, they defeated favored Illinois Wesleyan 81-75 on the Titans’ home floor. Expectations grew higher and higher with each playoff triumph. Four Top-25 ranked teams opposed Wabash in the prior playoff games, and the Scarlet vanquished them all.

But no. As the 4,919 (paid attendance at War Memorial) attendees can attest, Wabash didn’t win on the scoreboard.

But where it really matters is in the restored excellence of Wabash College Basketball, in the dedication of its players and coaches, and the loyal support of its students, the Wabash/Crawfordsville community, and its alumni.

The Alumni & Parent Relations Office at Wabash had expected a crowd of perhaps 200 to attend its pre-game celebration at Flashback in Fort Wayne. There were about twice as many, including Rem Johnston ’55, David Orr ’57, and John Horner ’59. A not-quite-so-old Greg Birk ’77 and his wife Carroll flew to Indiana from Switzerland to attend the game. The indomitable Wabash Spirit abounded everywhere in Fort Wayne on Friday.

In his brief remarks at the pre-game event, Kip Chase ’03 reminded everyone that he’d played basketball at Wabash under retired Coach Mac Petty. Now a Vice President at Eli Lilly, Chase connected the life lessons he learned from Coach Petty to his success today. The reunion members of the Little Giants 1982 National Championship team, several of whom were present at the party and the game, echoed that same sentiment.

Winning comes from sacrifice, putting in tremendous effort and hard work, and then reaping the benefits of a body and mind that’s stretched and expanded as a result. By that definition, the 2021-2022 Little Giants are victors, no matter what the scoreboard said at the final buzzer at War Memorial Friday night.

*     *     *     *     *     *

Keri Alexander Luchowski, executive director, and Shannon O’Brien, assistant executive director of the North Coast Athletic Conference were at last night’s semi-final games, rooting for Wabash. They left shortly after the post-game press conference for Indianapolis, where some NCAC schools and their athletes are vying for top finishes in the Division III Swimming and Diving Nationals. It was gratifying for Wabash to see support from the NCAC in Fort Wayne.

I want to express my personal appreciation to Dillon Bender,  the SID at Manchester College, host school in the tournament. Is in his fourth year in this role, and he’s orchestrating quite a masterpiece performance thus far, and that will certainly continue for today’s All-Star and Final Game. Thanks for graciousness and superb support.

Allow me to shout out much appreciation to Ryan Whitnable (creator Great Lakes Basketball Invitational), Pat Coleman and Bob Quillman.  All three are avid and excellent Division III basketball followers. Anyone wondering about the benefits of playing D3 basketball should follow their social media work. They should also catch Wabash guard Tyler Watson’s post-game presser comments

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As I wrote yesterday, and then evidenced by last night’s game, I might be the world’s worst prognosticator when it comes to big basketball games. Having seen Randolph-Macon and Elmhurst first-hand, it’s hard not be wowed by both teams. The Yellow Jackets have a relentless offense that features multiple scoring threats. Their All-American Buzz Anthony (12 points, 11 assists) is a phenomenal field general, and 6th man Ian Robertson (22 points, 7 of 10 from the field, 6 of 9 from beyond the three-point arc) really sparked the Old Dominion Athletic Conference champions’ team to their 81-63 triumph over Marietta

Elmhurst successfully pounded the ball inside, scoring 52 points in the paint. That made Jake Rhode (32 points) and 6th man Dominic Genco (20 points, 4 assists, 2 steals) even more devastating against Wabash. Another reason for the Bluejays’ success was the lock-down defense which guard Wesley Hooker placed on Little Giant All-American Jack Davidson. Hooker’s in-your-face “D” and occasional double-teams limited Davidson to 5 of 14 in field goals Friday night.

This one won’t be a one-sided blowout. It could well come down to the last few possessions, and how well both teams execute their defenses.

I like Randolph-Macon in the final.

*     *     *     *     *     *

“So Professor Kerezy, what did you do over spring break?” That question will come up in my MJS 1010 Principles of Media & Communication class on Monday. And if I reply that I drove 1,500 miles and devoted two weekends to watch my beloved Wabash College basketball team in the NCAA playoffs, that would be factually correct.

If I said “I wrote a few stories about my beloved alma mater, Wabash” that would be accurate also.

As important as the games are, for me there was a great sense of personal satisfaction from getting to know the parents of the Little Giant basketball team, and from speaking with the teachers at Hose Elementary School, where several of the Wabash players and Coach Brumett invest their time in helping 5-6-7 year-olds learn how to read.

Matters of the heart – how we love and care for one another – have a heightened importance for everyone since Covid-19. It’s also more meaningful than ever to me since my Stage 3 bladder cancer and Stage 3A renal failure diagnosis in the winter-spring of 2021.

“Doing as well as can be expected” has become a standard answer when friends or strangers ask about my health. Excellent surgeons and doctors, marvelous chemotherapy drugs, and a positive mental attitude all contributed to my recovery. I’m sitting cancer-free in a hotel room in Fort Wayne as I conclude this blog. (More on this is at www.jkerezy.wordpress.com)

I give thanks and praise to God and to Christ Jesus for the healing that’s happened to my body.

And I give thanks to the Wabash Little Giants for their courage, their dedication, their sacrificial team play this season. You’ve given inspiration to thousands with the way you’ve conducted yourselves off and on the court. This is a season for the record books.

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