The Stephen F. Austin men's basketball team is just one day
from tip-off of arguably the biggest game in school history.
The Jacks will take the court against Virginia Commonwealth
University in the second round of the NCAA National Tournament Friday night.
All week long the community has been hyped; buying shirts
off the shelf and showing up for a team sendoff Wednesday morning.
The players say all the added attention has been something
they are learning to embrace.
Senior, Deshaunt Walker, was almost cut last season by
former head coach Danny Kasper but new coach Brad Underwood gave Walker another
chance and it has paid off as Walker has become a leader on the team.
"Walking around campus has been pretty
exciting," Walker said. "Everybody is like, ‘congratulations, congratulations.
You've done so well.' "Me and Jake [Parker] walked into class today and we got
a standing ovation. It was kind of embarrassing with all the attention. I
didn't really like it, but it's pretty fun. Everyone's acknowledged it and
everybody is excited to watch the game on Friday."
Brad Underwood is no stranger to the
tournament and says that you have to take the attention and run with it.
"It's what it's all about," Underwood said. "It's bringing
people closer together and when you walk around and see people smiling, that's
a good feeling. That's what college athletics does and that's what this team
has done and from the watch party to everybody's a buss planning trips to the
game and that's exciting and that's that hopefully for our students, not just
for our student athletes but for our students and for our fans they have a
great deal of pride and to go down town and have everybody wish you
congratulations and good luck, that's special."
And while the players are getting used to the attention,
they also say they are trying to remain calm about the whole experience.
"It's an honor we made it to the tournament we're excited,"
Senior Desmond Haymon said. "We got to take care of business and stay focused
at the same time. We're staying humble with it knowing we can't get a big head
because just making it to the tournament was not our dream. We want to go in
there and continue to dream big as Coach Underwood say so we got to stay
focused and we have great leadership to keep the guys focused on the task that
we're trying to accomplish."
"A lot more people saying, ‘We're proud of you, go represent
us,' things like that showing that," Junior Thomas Walkup said. "This community
does have our back, the student body has our back and their supporting us. That means a lot."
The 12th seeded Jacks play the 5th
seeded VCU Rams Friday at 6:30 in San Diego, CA.