Just like Tony Stark, floating aimlessly through space following the destruction of the Avengers, the Rowan University men’s basketball team can only reflect following an emotional defeat.
The team gave the university a season for the ages. This team, especially the seniors, gave everything they had every game all year long, en-route to a 22-7 season overall record. Following their 87-76 loss to Nichols College in the second round of the Division III NCAA Tournament, it’d be easy to focus on what went wrong.
Instead, we should remember just how incredible this season has been. It’s been a year of historic proportions. Winning the New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC) Championship might not seem flashy when blinded by the bright lights of the national stage, but the accomplishment cannot be overlooked.
When third-year head coach Joe Crispin had his team outlast New Jersey City University on Feb. 22, it marked the team’s first NJACtitle since 1999. Two decades since the Profs have held conference hardware. Rowan had only been a university for two years. Then associate head coach Joe Cassidy’s squad, like this year’s team, won the NJAC and made it to the second round of the National Tournament in his third year calling the shots.
In recent years, the men’s basketball program had fallen on hard times. Although they continued to win their fair share of games, the ultimate prize continued to elude them.
This was the team destined to change all that.
“[When] I recruited [the DePersia’s]… we really talked to them about it,” Crispin said, “a shift in culture… Man, I played with my brother. If I can’t recruit back-court brothers who want to ball, then I need to get out of this business. We did talk a lot about a shift in culture. Anytime anyone thinks about that, it always sounds good, but it’s always harder than you think.”
The gauntlet was thrown down during that recruiting process during the spring of 2015. The picture wasn’t always clear.
“I remember when he first recruited me,” senior guard Ramon Wright said. “In the first two weeks of being here, [there] was a practice and we were shooting on three rims. And I’m like, ‘Yo, what’s going on here?’ [Crispin] was like ‘Listen, you’re going to get adjusted. It may not work this year. But it’s definitely a process. You’ve got to think about this year, and next year…’ Now that it’s finally over, he was basically saying how we did everything that we were supposed to.”
Looking back on the season, there was one moment when the Profs knew they had something special.
“There was this stretch where we lost three games in a row and we didn’t have Robby or DaRon,” Wright said. “And then we come back and play Ramapo [College] and it was a totally different feeling on the court.”
Senior guard Rob DePersia, who just scored his 1,000th career point, agreed.
“That was a big part of the year,” DePersia said. “After that, we kind of came with a swagger and we knew ‘Okay, nobody’s beating us. We can control it.'”
Boosted by the NJAC title victory and reaching the second round of the tournament, the focus shifts on the returning players to keep moving the program forward.
“Connor [Dickerson] had a great season,” Crispin said. “As a freshman, to come in and do what he did… Averaged almost double figures. To come up really big in big games. To be a guy we really relied on defensively, as a freshman, is a huge deal to me. I thought Austin [Kearney] stepped up at the end and really found himself. We plan on Diante [Bah] coming back. I mean, a kid who hadn’t played organized basketball and just had a great season for himself and for the team… [Ryan Legler] had some great games down the stretch.”
As Crispin spoke about the rest of his young guys, it was clear that he’s excited for what the future holds with this unit.
Matt Green. Brian Thatcher. Jonathan Hevalow. Marko Pantovic.
The list goes on.
“Winning the NJAC was more special than even I realized, I think for the group and for the program,” Crispin said.
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