Credit ESPN with an assist to Texas Wesleyan in its latest national title.
The Rams were playing their fifth game in six days in the NAIA championship on Tuesday night. With a wafer-thin bench, and missing a key role player who sustained a broken ankle two days prior, the Rams needed breathers whenever possible.
Only because the game was streamed on ESPN3 did TWU coach Brennen Shingleton have the luxury that coaches on the higher levels take for granted. He had actual media timeouts.
They were a Godsend for a team that essentially used six players in the entire game.
“We only had one other game with media timeouts all season. That was in December,” Shingleton said Wednesday. “Those media timeouts played right into our hands. We needed it and they really helped us catch our breath.”
TWU is normally known as the Alabama of ping pong. Not kidding. The school has 60 national titles in table tennis. Throw basketball in here. And, in starting in the fall, it will have football after a short 75-year hiatus from the sport.
The Rams’ second national title since 2006 in men’s basketball is inspiring to its school and to anyone who loves sports but is fatigued by the omnipresence of money.
It’s also another highlight for what has been a milestone season of college basketball in DFW. TCU is headed to the NIT semifinals in New York, and UT Arlington came within one win of joining them. SMU won its conference and qualified for another NCAA tournament.
The one you have heard about the least is the one who just won it all.
Credit the school administration for committing to athletics, and then applaud the many men and women who have made this success possible. Be sure to include former coach Terry Waldrop on this list, and the players who made a home in east Fort Worth.
Of the 15 players on the roster, 10 spent at least one season at a another school. Two guys played at different colleges. One player is from the South Sudan. There’s one from Sri Lanka. And there is an Australian, too.
Absolutely no one on this level is here because of fortune or fame. No one at TWU thinks this is just one stop before the NBA.
This is sports without the paranoia of the higher levels. Guys like Shingleton, his coaches and players are here because they just love it.
Attendance is sparse. TWU (29-7) played its 12 road games in front of a combined 15,567 spectators. When Kansas hosted Oklahoma on March 1, it reported a crowd of 16,300.
TWU does not have a fleet of trainers and academic support staff to attend to every single need. Shingleton has three assistant coaches, one of whom is a student.
Texas Wesleyan defeated Life (Ga.) University 86-76 on Tuesday night in the NAIA men’s basketball title game. It’s the team’s second title since 2006.
He picks team hotels based on whether it offers a complimentary breakfast. Ice baths are only available if the hotel ice machine has enough.
There is no per diem on the road. During the team’s extended tournament run in Kansas City, Mo., they ate pizzas. Or Fire House subs. Or Subway.
Every dollar is precious and always accounted for.
Only those who do it and are in it can appreciate just how much fun it can all be. Most guys are going at such a pace they are too busy to know the lack of funds as an excuse.
“I’ve been here since 2002. I’ve got a sister who teaches at Indigo Yoga there on Camp Bowie. I am so ingrained in Fort Worth,” Shingleton said from the team’s more than eight-hour bus ride back to Fort Worth. “I don’t have anyone breathing down my neck about winning. I just don’t have to fight any of those fights you do at some places. And I’m not just trying to chase anything. Nothing I’ve seen says, ‘Let’s move to Olathe, Kansas,’ for whatever job.”
It does not mean the job at TWU is easy.
This is a transient locale. Because TWU does not always have a full slate of scholarships to offer, Shingleton can’t miss on players. If he misses, his team loses.
Two of the Rams’ five wins in the six-day NAIA tournament were by a total of three points, including a one-point OT win against William Penn (IA) in the semifinals.
“I know this sounds weird but the ‘transfer epidemic’ that is going in college basketball right now really helps us,” he said. “This could be a guy’s last stop.”
Take guard Najeal Young, a young man from Milwaukee, Wis., who played at Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Then it was over to Lincoln (Ill.) College. After that, he played at Illinois-Chicago, where he was coached by former long-time TCU assistant Steve McClain.
Talent wise, Young is better than NAIA but he wanted a place where he could play. That’s what often drives the more talented players to places like TWU; the trick is for guys like Shingleton to catch the right one.
“All of the normal flags were up on [Young] because we were trying to figure out why he was good and still bouncing around,” Shingleton said. “We had to make sure we didn’t miss on this guy.”
Shingleton had Young’s mom down for a visit and didn’t even talk basketball. The basketball part would work. It was the rest that was the concern.
“He just had never been able to be himself in a program until he got here,” he said. “They were always looking to change him.”
TWU doesn’t win a national title without Young, who averaged 14.6 points and 8.4 rebounds per game. He had a double-double in the title game win.
It was his last game as a Ram.
TWU now has another giant red title banner to raise in its quaint Sid Richardson Center, which is also home to the volleyball team and women’s basketball team. Through the doors is the trophy room, around the corner is the swimming center and farther down the hall is the pool table in the student rec center.
None of this screams big time, but rather a genuine love of sport.
TWU made the commitment to sports, and it has another title to celebrate. Bring on football.