Rams prepare to defend national title at NAIA tournament


Rams guard Branden Jenkins dribbles while his team sets up a play during the SAC quarterfinal game against John Brown University. Photo by Karan Muns

The Rams are preparing to defend their national title next week at the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics Division I men’s tournament.

The bracket reveal is 7 p.m. Wednesday on the Play NAIA Facebook page.

Last year the Rams beat Life University 86-76 to win the national title. This year’s tournament starts March 14; the championship game is March 20. The tournament is being held in Kansas City.

The team’s strategy this year has been to take the season one game at a time, head coach Brennen Shingleton said.  

“I’ve been lucky and fortunate enough to have been down this road before,” he said. “So, it’s easy for me to kind of look far ahead and say this is the path we need to navigate. But for a lot of these guys, they’ve never been here before. Our goal is always to win the next game.”

Shingleton said the team’s biggest weakness is immaturity and lack of focus.

“The immaturity sometimes will say, ‘This has been going well; this is how it’s going to go all year’ and that’s a very bad way of approaching the season,” he said. “So what we’ve really tried to do is slow down a little bit by playing week to week, game to game, practice to practice.”

The Rams have a decent shot at defending their title “if we can stick to the plan and keep our head down we can make this thing happen,” Shingleton said.

When people come to play basketball at Texas Wesleyan they expect to make it far into post season play, and expectations are tough because every team is different, he said.

“I think if anything (winning last year) distracted us,” Shingleton said. “This year’s team is a victim of last year’s success. They didn’t earn that. It wasn’t theirs. But the good thing is that they understand that this place allows us the opportunity to win. It prepares them for big games because if you play basketball at Texas Wesleyan you’re going to get everybody’s best shot.”

The team is getting ready to play five games in six days during the NAIA tournament. This is mentally and physically challenging for the team so they’re preparing their best, guard Demarcus Emanuel said.

“The team feels good to get the opportunity to play for the big goal. We can (win it all). We just have to take it one day at a time one game at a time,” Emanuel said.

The team is going to practice intensely all week, guard Branden Jenkins said.

“We are going to practice hard all week and get our legs back under us in preparation for the tournament,” he said.

The team is eager to get to the tournament and keep competing, Jenkins said.

“We are excited for nationals,” Jenkins said, “but it is a business trip that comes with great responsibility. We can win as much as we want to. Ultimately, wins and losses come down to executing and attention to detail.”

For more information on the tournament, visit naia.org.

Rams guard Branden Jenkins dribbles while his team sets up a play during the SAC quarterfinal game against John Brown University.
Photo by Karan Muns