Men's Basketball Team Learns Important Lessons in Winning Season
The Men's Basketball Team experienced the excruciating agony of defeat in the first round of the Region 19 play-offs when Essex Co. College scored a three-pointer from 30 feet out at the buzzer to win the game 60-59. Observed fifth-year Head Coach Kelly Williams, "In a situation like that, you don't believe what just happened. In all my years playing and coaching basketball, I never experienced anything like that. It was a tough loss, but a true learning experience for our players about how every possession counts."
Williams is extremely proud of his team and its 16-13 final record. "The highlight of our season came in the first half, when we were ranked as high as sixth in the nation," Williams said.
While the national ranking was good for the Mercer basketball program, it also made the Vikings a target during the second semester, a particularly tough position when two key players didn't join the roster as expected. After the winter break, Williams recalled, "we had a few close losses that shook our confidence. There were five or six games that came down to a possession or two." Injury also played a role, as the Vikings were forced to play their last five games without starting forward Anthony DaBronzo.
Coach Williams' early season prediction that Lackawanna was the team to beat proved true as Lackawanna went on to compete at the national tournament. In assessing Mercer's two losses against Lackawanna, he noted, "Both games were close. We proved that we can play at that level."
Williams credits four sophomores with serving as the team's backbone: Dwayne Washington, Cliff Powell, Stephen Taylor and Cliff Pollard. Washington and Powell were selected to the All-Region Second Team; freshman Anthony DaBronzo was selected to the first team.
Despite the rocky second half of the season, the Vikings' effort and commitment remained intact. "These players gave a lot on the court and also did well in the classroom," Williams said. "That's what it's all about." Williams' greatest satisfaction is that Washington, Powell, Taylor and Pollard are all planning to continue their education and playing careers at four-year schools. "That's the ultimate goal. Basketball is only one part of life. Even more important than the team's winning percentage is the placement percentage for our student-athletes."
Williams is upbeat about the Vikings' chances for next year. Freshmen DaBronzo, Miroslav Babiarz, Jesse Carter, Shariff High, Craig Phillips and Xaviar Vinyals are all expected to return. "They will be a better team for the lessons they learned this year," Williams said. "The early national ranking, the drought we experienced, the last second loss in the play-offs, these are all important tools to build on for next season."