March 27, 2013

My Championship Experience - Men's Basketball Edition

My Championship Experience is a diary blog written by Summit League student-athletes detailing their experiences at each of the 19 Championships.

Western Illinois senior and first team All-Summit League selection Ceola Clark III writes about his experience at the 2013 Summit League Men's Basketball Tournament:

Day 1: Thursday, March 7

On the road to The Summit League Tournament, and wow, what a trip it was as not even two hours into the trip we found ourselves stuck on the side of the road with the bus broken down. The broken-down bus wouldn’t stop us from enjoying the moment, though, as we laughed about the situation and joked around amongst one another until another bus came and got us. We then back tracked to Burlington, Iowa, and stopped for practice at Southeastern Community College. Honestly, after sitting in a bus for that long, we all wanted to get on the court and get our legs going.

It was great to practice in a different environment. After that, we were back on the road with only one stop left and that was to a buffet. Our head coach Jim Molinari loves to hit up buffets on the road. It was certainly a relief when we finally arrived in Sioux Falls at 11:30 p.m., reaching our destination after traveling for roughly 15 hours. The set-up for the tournament at the hotel was very nice, and our team was represented well on The Summit League awards wall, which is always fun to see. Terell Parks and I had First Team All-Conference photos hanging up.  Parks was also tabbed ‘Defensive Player of the Year’, Adam Link was on the All-Newcomer Team, and our leader, and head coach, Jim Molinari was named ‘Coach of the Year’.

Day 2: Friday, March 8

The next morning, the day before our first game of the tournament, I got up bright and early to start the day off with a morning workout in the hotel. I wasn’t the only one in the mood for a morning workout, as I found three of my coaches in the hotel workout facility as well.  Getting up early is always a great way to start off the day.  At roughly 3 p.m. that afternoon it was time for our first practice in Sioux Falls. We practiced at the Augustana (a Division II school in town) practice facility. It was one of the nicest practice gyms I had ever been in. I was very familiar with the gym since I had two close friends that played college basketball for the Vikings. Friday night’s pregame routine was the same all year long. A couple of teammates, Isaiah Duncan and Jason Hawthorne, as well as our manager Jason Moore, always get together and watch a movie in my room. I’ve grown so close with those guys and they have been a great key to my success individually and our success as a team.

Day 3: Saturday, March 9

Game day finally arrived and I was super nervous. I decide to set my alarm and wake up early to get in another early morning workout. Our associate head coach Billy Wright and I, for many years, talked about “The Breakfast Club” that Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls used to do. I always like to get myself up early in the morning and get my body going with a small workout at the hotel. We played the last game of the tournament’s opening day, and it truly felt like our game time was never going to arrive. With a tough opponent in South Dakota, I knew it was going to be a rough game since they would be well supported. The game is played on a neutral court, but with both of the South Dakota teams being so close to Sioux Falls, we knew their fans would travel well. The game had come and gone. It was a great team victory; we completed a comeback and were able to pull off another close victory to advance to the semifinals to face either Kansas City or North Dakota State.

Day 4: Sunday, March 10

Sunday was nice, because unlike last season, we had a day in between our first two games to get some rest and wait to see who our opponent would be.

Our women’s basketball team played that afternoon and our entire team showed up to cheer them on and show our support.  We sat in the student section and cheered as loud as we could for them. Unfortunately, we couldn’t stay for the entire game due to the fact that we had practice, and the women lost in double overtime.

We had another great day of practice that helped prepare us for Monday’s semifinal game. With our semifinal game being Monday, me and “the guys” again picked out a movie and watched it in my room. We always stick with our routine.

Day 5: Monday, March 11

Monday rolled around and it was game day, our semifinal contest versus North Dakota State was tonight. We were one win away from getting back to The Summit League title game like last season. The task of defeating NDSU was going to be a lot tougher than the first two times we faced them in the regular season. We were missing our center piece, and the league’s ‘Defensive Player of the Year’, Terell Parks. NDSU is a great team, they have a great program, and a great coach in Saul Phillips, but we were up to the challenge thanks to great senior leadership.

The atmosphere was great and our team was ready to play. We trailed the Bison by a few points in the second half, and me being the player that I am, wanted to do whatever I could to help my team and leave it out there on the court. After coming up with a few steals and knocking down some free throws, I felt myself getting in “the zone”; but then it all came tumbling down.

I drove to the basket and was coming to a jump stop, then felt a pop. I knew from the moment I had landed that I had seriously injured my knee. The team made a great push after that, and cut our deficit to two points. But the Bison eventually pulled away and earned a chance to face South Dakota State in the championship game.

When we got back to the hotel, rather than sitting around being sad, my teammates and I tried to stay upbeat. My teammates are the greatest. They came and sat in my room with me, cheered me up, and we talked about the season to keep my mind off of the injury. I love those guys and will never forget this season.

It was a tough way to finish my college career, but to go out as a regular season champions and to play with such a great group of guys, I can’t complain. It was an amazing season and I was able to reflect on watching the Western Illinois basketball program grow from the bottom, all the way to the top; winning a share of the regular season championship.

Don’t forget to check out the next edition of My Championship Experience as it follows the Men’s and Women's Golf Championships, April 22-24, and throughout the 2012-13 season for coverage at each of The Summit League Championships.

No comments:

Post a Comment