LEWISTON — Every evening, the Bates College men’s basketball team gears up for practice in rustic Alumni Gym and can’t help but see the Wall of Fame at one end.

Before senior guard Graham Safford of Hampden crossed the career 1,000-point threshold Jan. 6, 30 other players had their name etched on a plaque, sharing that distinction.

Another common denominator linking that exceptional club through the decades: Not one of them had ever played in the NCAA Division III tournament.

“The list of great players right there, we see it every day,” Bates junior Mike Boornazian said. “To think that those guys came through here and that we’re the first team, it’s really an honor.”

Bates (19-6) will make its first modern-era appearance in a national tournament when it takes on St. Vincent College of Latrobe, Pa., at 5:30 p.m. Friday in a first-round game on the campus of Stockton University in Galloway, N.J.

Stockton hosts Endicott in Friday’s second game. The winners will square off Saturday.

Advertisement

“We’ve learned under some great captains that have been here in the past. They haven’t quite had the chance to get to this level. We understand how important that is,” senior Cam Kaubris of Rumford said. “It’s really good looking forward for the program and where we want to be. Hopefully we can make some noise this year, but I think it’s a key program-builder to get a foot in the door.”

This is St. Vincent’s third consecutive automatic bid after the Bearcats (22-6) won the Presidents’ Athletic Conference title.

The Bobcats waited nine days after losing to eventual champion Wesleyan in the NESCAC tournament before learning Monday that it received one of 20 at-large bids.

“We’ve had 10, 12 days off, and we are hungry,” Bates coach Jon Furbush said. “That nine-day stretch might be the longest nine days we’ve ever had in this program, but now we have a new life. The practices that we’ve had this week have been unbelievable.”

Bates kept up that daily practice routine last week while other D3 tournament hopefuls persisted in conference playoffs, presumably padding their resumes.

Optimism reigned because the Bobcats play in one of the toughest leagues in the country. NESCAC rivals Wesleyan, Amherst and Trinity also are in the field.

Advertisement

The Bobcats went 12-0 at home during the regular season, lost only one game to an in-state opponent, and won 12 of their final 15 regular-season games. They opened the season by rallying from a double-digit deficit to win the Babson Invitational against the nationally-ranked hosts.

“That turned out to be huge for us getting in the tournament. It was a top 25 win right off the bat. It gave us confidence that we could hang with the best of them,” Boornazian, a junior averaging 15.1 points per game, said. “We knew it was going to be a grind. We just went in and practiced hard every day. Just kept faith, kept confidence that we were going to be in the tournament. We knew we deserved it.”

Bates’ history book shows an “NCAA regional” game in 1960-61, when it went 15-9. More recently the Bobcats enjoyed a five-year stretch of at least 17 wins each season under Joe Reilly, highlighted by 20 wins in 2005-06.

The tournament call never came, however.

In Furbush’s first six seasons, Bates hit double-digit victories each year, but never won more than 14.

“Any time you take over a program, you think you can do it the first year, and you quickly realize that it takes time. Things have finally fallen into place for us,” Furbush said. “Last year we had a really bad conference year, and I think experience is the best teacher. These guys spun it the right way. Instead of making excuses, they said that’s not happening again.”

Advertisement

Billy Selmon and Adam Philpott join Safford (15.2 ppg) and Kaubris as upperclassmen on the squad. The Delpeche brothers, sophomores Marcus (6-foot-7, 205 pounds) and Malcolm (6-8, 210), start along with Safford, Boornazian and Selmon.

“The team was pretty much the same guys, and we knew last year we had the potential to attain great things and we just didn’t put it together,” Boornazian said. “This year we came in and said, alright, we have all the tools, and something really clicked.”

Bates has watched film of its opponent, but that revealed little.

In one game, Furbush said, the Bearcats changed defenses five times in an effort to keep its opponent confused.

“We know they’ve been a tournament team the past few seasons,” Kaubris said. “We’re just going to have to wait and see. I think that’s when we’re at our best is when we just go out and play basketball.”

Furbush said that he expects the Bobcats’ overall size and athleticism, led by the Delpeches and the 6-5 Boornazian, to create difficulty for St. Vincent.

Advertisement

“I don’t know if they’ve seen the length we have at the four (power forward) and five (center). I take it for granted in the NESCAC, because we have a lot of those guys,” Furbush said. “When you get out of the NESCAC, you realize that a 6-foot-8, 215-pound guy who’s touching the top of the square, you don’t see that in Division III.”

At every level of basketball, getting to the tournament once is usually the first step to becoming a perennial face in the crowd.

Don’t think the email announcing Bates’ invitation to the dance hasn’t been forwarded all across the country.

“It’s probably the easiest recruiting tool for us now,” Furbush said. “Every guy we’re talking to, they know we’re going to the NCAA tournament. If we can make a run here, it’s an even better selling point for us.”

Kaubris, for one, is glad he answered the sales pitch and got in on the ground floor.

“It’s been a wild ride, ups and downs and everything, but for the most part it’s been all I could ask for in my senior year,” he said. “We as seniors wanted to cultivate a winning tradition, and that’s something I can say we’ve been able to do this year.”

[email protected]


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: