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Men's Basketball: Hawks take center stage

HCC, seeded 12th, faces 21st-seed Lee (Texas) at nationals

March 17, 2013|By BOB PARASILITI | bobp@herald-mail.com
  • Hagerstown's Christian Leach drives to the basket against ASA College during the NJCAA District 3 championship game won by the Hawks on March 10. HCC will play Lee (Texas) at the NJCAA Division I national tournament today in Hutchinson, Kan.
By Kevin G. Gilbert/Staff Photographer

Timing has been everything for the Hagerstown Community College men’s basketball team.

The Hawks put a closing burst through three tournaments to earn a spot in the NJCAA Division I national tournament in Hutchinson, Kan. The time was right for HCC after nearly a 20-year wait.

HCC, seeded 12th in the 24-team field, faces Lee College of Baytown, Texas, on Monday evening at 5:30 in the first round of the revamped tournament.

It used to be a 16-team double-elimination format. Now it’s single elimination.

And it was about time for Region XX to have a Mid-Atlantic representative in the tournament, especially after two tries by Monroe (Bronx) over the last couple of years.

But now, the Hawks (29-4) have to put time on their side.

“I have been setting the team up for this for the whole year,” said HCC coach Barry Brown. “When we play, we are playing for today. Then we go get food, rest, treatment and stretch out and start working for tomorrow.”

Yesterday, today and tomorrow has come together for HCC to create Monday’s game — maybe the biggest one in school history.

“This is a heck of a challenge,” Brown said. “If we go all the way, it’s five games and 200 minutes (of playing time). We would have to play 200-plus minutes and take care of the ball. We have no choice.

“In the end, someone has to win. Why not us?”

For HCC, the District 3 champions, Lee College is a huge obstacle in the way of getting to the second round.

The Rebels (24-10) won the rugged Region XIV title by defeating the fourth, second and first seeds of the tournament. They are coming to the tournament instead of San Jacinto, which has been a perennial player for the national title.

Lee College may be a surprise, but it is far from surprising.

“They have some of the most gifted athletes in the country,” Brown said. “They won one of the toughest regions in the country and are still the 21st seed. There are no easy teams in this tournament.”

The Rebels are led by Jamal Jones — who scored 28 points to be named the region tournament MVP. He is a 6-foot-8 sophomore and is one of the most recruited players in the country, averaging 20 points per game for Lee after transferring from the University of Mississippi.

Other standouts are 6-7 Trahson Burrell, dubbed the “Human Highlight Reel,” 6-8 Deng Deng, a Sudanese refugee who comes from Australia, and 6-0 point guard Don Thomas.

HCC counters with sophomore Antonio Jenifer, a 6-8 forward who is eighth in the nation at 21.0 points per game, and 6-4 guard Donte Thomas, who ranks third in the country with 9.0 assists per game. Kervin Rameau, at 6-6, adds grit under the boards and 6-3 guard Jerel Carter is the coach on the court at point guard.

The Hawks enter the game on a seven-game winning streak and are averaging 94.5 points per game, second best in the nation.

“We have to play in a relaxed manner on the big stage,” Brown said. “We have to play solid defense and rebound to control the tempo, and we have to use every possession of the ball wisely.”

If HCC should defeat Lee on Monday, it will face Vincennes (Ind.) University in a rematch of last year’s Region XX opener, won by the Hawks. Vincennes is the fifth seed in the tournament and is out for revenge.

“We can’t look ahead,” Brown said. “Lee is a formidable opponent.”

Still, if everything goes HCC’s way, it would be off Wednesday before closing with three straight games, culminating with the national title game on Saturday at 8 p.m.

Reaching the nationals is a product of a promise by HCC’s sophomores — Jenifer, Carter, Antwan Pittman and Jean Eddy Clerius — who vowed to Brown that they wouldn’t be satisfied if they didn’t reach the nationals after losing to Monroe last year.

“We’re not expected to win, but that is to our advantage,” Brown said. “They expect to win and they know I expect to win, but we don’t dwell on that. The key for us is to just go out an play our way.

“No matter what happens, we knocked in the door and got to the national stage. It’s a matter of being physically and mentally ready to play. Again, someone is going to win this title. Why not us?”

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