Free barbecue and T-shirts were given out Tuesday in the Sid W. Richardson Center in celebration of the men’s basketball team winning the NAIA national championship last week.
More than 200 people filled the gym’s bleachers and spilled over onto the floor; they formed along, twisting line to the food, which included pulled pork sandwiches, baked beans and green beans.
The celebration of last Tuesday’s 86-76 victory over Life University in Kansas City to take the NAIA Division I Men’s Basketball Championship also included a short clip congratulating the team played on a projector screen. The coaches and players came in one by one and stood by the podium, smiling at the crowd of cheering fans.
Texas Wesleyan University President Frederick Slabach said the team had distinguished itself both on and off the court.
“We are very, very proud of their accomplishments,” Slabach said after the film. “This national championship is just the beginning of wonderful things that are going to happen in your personal lives in the years to come.”
Slabach said head coach Brennen Shingleton focuses on team both as players and as people.
“I got to know Brennen over the years, and I can attest to the fact that Brennen not only focuses on the team on the court, but he also focuses on these young men in their personal and professional lives,” he said. “He and his team represent Texas Wesleyan extraordinarily well and we are proud to celebrate them today. National championships are hard fought, and so, we as a university are taking a moment to savor this win and to celebrate this team.”
He then congratulated the team.
“You’ve made us very, very proud to call ourselves ‘Texas Wesleyan Rams.’ Go Rams!” he said.
Chairman of the Board of Trustees Beverly Volkman Powell said the championship is a major moment in Wesleyan history.
“The legendary Boston Celtic Bill Russell said that basketball is a game of habits,” she said. “This team made excellent in their habits. Our basketball team didn’t win this championship, they worked hard for it; it is no small feat, gentlemen. And this team won it long before they stepped on the court in Kansas City, they won it day by day with a dedication to excellence and a work ethic like no other. These values, the skills, and the habits that you all learned as you went through this process will move you and your professional lives with the same dedication to excellence, I promise you.”
Powell also said she had been a Wesleyan basketball fan for a long time.
“As a girl who began attending Texas Wesleyan basketball games a toddler, and as one who understands the Texas Wesleyan basketball tradition like not many people do, I congratulate you gentlemen on this historic win, again, go Rams,” she said to a volley of cheers.
Athletic Director Steve Trachier’s main point in his speech was that excellence ties the team and Wesleyan together.
“You are looking at excellence, and we talk about excellence, and it’s hard to achieve,” Trachier said. “There’s only one way to become excellent at anything, it’s just hard-stinking-work. It is a commitment to what you’re doing, it’s being a person of high character, and putting the work into be of excellent character and to be a national champion.”
Trachier then told an anecdote about an afternoon when he saw three players in the gym doing drills.
“I walked into this gym one day and three young men were in here working on their game,” Trachier said. “One was a rebounder, one was a shooter, and one was passer. Well, the rebounder was Naiel Smith. There wasn’t a coach in the gym, he didn’t know I was in the gym. I’m watching in the corner, nobody knows I’m there. I’ve never seen a guy work harder in a drill in my life than Naiel did that day. Sweat was dripping off of him – he would not let a ball touch the floor. And I was awed at his commitment to the game and his work ethic, and it’s not a surprise at all that the whole team exhibited those kinds of characteristics – they became successful and that’s a lesson we can all learn from them.
“It was an unselfish team. They picked each other up every day at practice and on the floor. I was in every home game and some of the road games this year, and the only time I ever saw a disagreement with a teammate – was [when] I saw one teammate tell to another, ‘You need to shoot the ball, you’re open.’ This team is so unselfish, for the greater good, they wanted to be excellent and they absolutely were. So gentlemen, we are so proud of you, we applaud your effort, you’ve made your university very proud, I need to mention one other thing.”
Trachier ended his speech by encouraging the students to keep their grades up.
“We named a lot of All-Americans a few minutes ago, but where’s Praneeth?” he said. “This is the kind of All-American we want every one of our students to be, this is an NAIA academic All-Americans.”
Shingleton spoke last.
“This is my 15th year at Wesleyan, I’ve seen a lot of guys come in and out of here, seen a lot of people come through here,” he said. “And one thing that stays consistent is the opportunity we have here. And I don’t want to get too philosophical with you here, but the challenge that we’ve had since day one with these guys is, ‘What do you wanna do with this opportunity?’ They never cheated the process, they never skipped practice – ya know, we’re college guys, we might’ve been a little late class or had a sickness or two – but they never skipped anything, and the challenge that I have for them is how do they want to take advantage of this opportunity.”
Shingleton closed his speech by talking about the future and emphasizing that the Rams made their title without relying on luck or anything else.
“The challenge now is what do we do next,” Shingleton said. “How do we get this thing back to where we want it to be and continue to make guys successful when they leave here, and these guys are ultimate ambassadors and recruiters for this program as has everybody’s been. And it’s been lucky enough to put a jersey on them, and when I say that – it’s not given, it’s earned – when I say, ‘They’ve been lucky enough,’ I say that time has been there and they’ve been prepared to put that jersey on. So, I’m really, really proud of this team, I hope they understand the reach and effect that they’ve had on me, I told them ‘thank you’ in the last game, and I meant it.”
International student and junior athletic training major Julio Ibarra, who is from Venezuela, said he really enjoyed the food.
“I like it,” Ibarra said. “It’s kind of different from what we eat every day. I live in the dorms, we’re not used to eating food this good every day, so it’s kind of a special day.”
He said he really enjoyed the event and said the team’s success really inspired him.
“I’m really enjoying this event because I’ve seen all the work that all the players have put in practice every day – for me, watching these guys become so successful is a good experience,” Ibarra said. “I’m excited to be a part of this and I hope they can keep doing this in the following years. I want to remember this day because I know it’s something that happens every year, I want to enjoy as much as I can.”
Marcus Haynes, a freshman criminal justice major and a defensive back for the football team, liked the food a lot as well.
“I enjoyed the free food, meeting the basketball teammates, and some of my friends – it was a great joyride,” he said.
Haynes didn’t catch much of the men’s basketball team in action, but said every game he did watch was very entertaining.
“I watched a couple of games – it was fun each and every time,” he said.