The Big Dance

The Big Dance

Jamie Lloyd, News Editor

It has been a long time coming for the University of New Orleans men’s basketball team, and—frankly—for the university itself.

After what can only be quantified as an exhilarating win by the University of New Orleans men’s basketball team in overtime, the Privateers are set to be written in the record books of UNO history.

With a Southland Conference title already sitting nicely under their belt, the Privateers took home the gold last Saturday night in Katy, Texas with the final score of 68-65 over Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, moving them to the NCAA tournament for the first time in 21 years.

“Everybody in the university is a champion,” head coach Mark Slessinger said.

“All the credit for this conference win goes to the student athletes, to the players. They’ve had an amazing commitment to the mission we’re trying to accomplish, which is to bring a championship to our campus, to the students and our faculty, staff and alumni. They have had an unwavering resolve in making that happen. I could not be more proud of them.”

Slessinger was awarded Southland Conference’s Coach of the Year honors and has had a long-standing vision for the franchise; he can particularly credit this success to the senior leadership on the team, giving up much of their time to mentor younger players and help the team move forward.

Nate Frye, one of those seniors, realized that having a close-knit team was instrumental to the Privateers’ success on and off court. “We needed to be close, not just amongst ourselves but with the underclassmen as well. They need to be as much a part of this team as the starting five.”

Frye said that he believes that building that foundation for teamwork starts from the youngest freshman to the oldest senior. “We bring the lower classmen with us, and it goes a long way to building something like this.”

Senior forward Erik Thomas describes the whole experience for the university as “a real eye-opener and turnaround for us.”

Thomas claimed 2016-17 Southland Conference Player of the Year, and was named SLC Tournament MVP after posting a double-double with 14 points and 11 rebounds in addition to team-best three assists.

“Not many players in the nation are able to say they brought a championship back to the school. Being able to experience this is a blessing. A story to tell my kids and my kids’ kids.”

Thomas said that setting the team’s goals in stone assisted in the win, further bringing them into fruition after hard work from the coaching staff and the players.

“To be able to accomplish this, to be able to do this for the whole school is great. We’re not just champions, the whole school is.”

Senior guard Tevin Broyles was second to Thomas offensively for the Privateers with 15 points, with players Michael Zeno and Christavious Gill also scoring high.

Athletic Director Derek Morrel said the entire team serves as a “beacon of pride” for the university and explained what wearing New Orleans across the chest of players truly means to them.

Morrel said he believes what led the team to victory is the players buying into the vision of their coaches and not losing sight of that vision, despite the bumps in the road. The Privateers have faced a number of setbacks, notably limping between divisions in recent years before returning to their mainstay Division 1.

“To understand what the University of New Orleans was at one point athletically and to see it grow like this is something special.”

“We’ve built a strong foundation these past five years,” said Morrel. We didn’t do this to have a one-year championship. The players are strong, active and healthy. We are prepared for success.”

A sentiment which Frye shared: “People want something to rally behind, something to believe in. We can build this going forward.”

Slessinger ended on some words of optimism for the team, and the university’s, new direction.

“This championship brings a massive point of pride back into everything. It pushes us forward, advances where we’re at as a university. It validates this university is on the upswing, and we’re moving in the right direction. People better watch out, we’re coming.”