Class of 2013
The Owls' road to the national championship actually began five years ago, with the hiring of Kevin Walden as head basketball coach and sports information director. Thanks in part to excellent early recruits such as Patrick Albright of Kingsport, Tenn., and Dan Jackson of Chicago, the Owls showed steady improvement before posting in 2012 their first winning season since the 1980s, winning their final nine games to finish 16-9. Alas, the season ended with a bitter taste when Warren Wilson did not receive a seemingly well-deserved invitation to the national tournament.
In late August 2012, the men's basketball team suddenly found itself without a head coach when Coach Walden accepted the head coaching job at his alma mater, Knox College. The Owls were reeling for a while after Walden's unexpected departure, but soon regrouped in anticipation of a new season and a new coach.
The 2012 snub only served to fuel the players' tournament fire for this past season, especially for the Owls' five seniors. One of them, Dylan Johnson of Wilkesboro, N.C., repeatedly told coaches interviewing for the coaching vacancy that the team's goal wasn't to make the national tournament, but to win the national title. He wasn't kidding
At the beginning of October, Greg Neeley was hired as the new Warren Wilson Head Coach. With the leadership of Coach Neeley, Assistants Tiger Norman and Matt Kantor '12, and the determination and cohesiveness of the players, new heights would be reached.
By late January, the team had a 7-10 record, a losing record owing in no small measure to a difficult early-season schedule. One loss was to NCAA Division I opponent Western Carolina, a team the visiting Owls trailed by just three points with 15 minutes to play before the Catamounts pulled away.
But Warren Wilson's 10th loss was to be its last, and by early March the surging Owls had won a national title. Not bad for a team that didn't have a head coach during the first several weeks of the academic year.
The Owls finished the season with 12 consecutive victories to win the U.S. Collegiate Athletic Association national championship (Division II). Their 19-10 record included four wins in four nights as the ninth seed in the national tournament's 10-team field, including a 76-68 comeback win over host team Penn State Fayette in the title game March 2 in Uniontown, Pa. Hollywood could not have dreamed up a better story.
Senior shooting guard Raysean Love of Burlington, N.C., led the way in the finale with 22 points, his average over the final three games. Not surprisingly, Love was named tournament Most Valuable Player for his deadly shooting and all-around play in leading the Owls to the title. Anthony Barringer, senior point guard from Charlotte, and Rashad Ali, junior post player from Chicago, also were named to the All-Tournament Team.
After the championship game, hugs were common and tears were flowing all around the court before and after the trophy presentation and ceremonial net cutting. The next day the national champions were welcomed home at DeVries Gym by a cheering throng of fans undeterred by a cold late-winter night. The following evening, a more formal victory ceremony was held on the gym floor. The five seniors, three coaches and Athletic Director Stacey Enos all spoke and expressed their heartfelt thanks to everyone who had supported the team during its remarkable title run.
"The support and genuine love you've shown has been amazing," Love said. "Everyone here has helped me, and the word 'grateful' does not do justice to the way I feel."
I am pleased to introduce the 2012-2013 USCAA National Champions, the Warren Wilson College Men's Basketball Team.