Thank you for being one of our most loyal readers. Please consider supporting community journalism by subscribing to The Wilson Times.
Saturday night’s celebration in a huge tent situated near Wilson Gymnasium on the Barton College campus left the distinct impression that not much has changed internally with the 2007 Barton College men’s basketball team that seized the NCAA Division II national championship.
Players Anthony “Ant” Atkinson and Alejo Barovero, who was not present, continued to occupy the limelight along with veteran head coach Ron Lievense.
With assistant coaches and players from the championship year looking on, the trio was inducted into the Barton College Athletic Hall of Fame.
But the team itself was also honored and savoring the occasion were players Brian Leggett, Errol Frails, Brandon Raffel, Sam Pounds, Shane McDuffy, Bobby McNeil, Spenser Briggs, Charles Gamble, Mark Friscoe, David King and L.J. Dunn, as well as assistant coaches Joel Zimmerman, Mark Pounds and John Skinner; sports information director John Hackney and head athletic trainer Randy Pridgen.
Dunn, then a freshman, remembers his concerns were improving in practice, supporting his teammates and being ready if the opportunity presented itself. He knew he’d have three more years to establish his legacy.
Dunn, role players and developing newcomers were not bothered by the star attention extended to certain players — then or now.
“We were a team,” he reasoned. “It’s part of the game.”
Indeed, the 2006-07 Bulldogs were quite the team, compiling a 31-5 record and winning all nine of their overtime games — a feat unprecedented in NCAA hoops history. Regional drama in Wilson Gymnasium and three wins in the Elite Eight produced the program’s only national championship.
In the final, Atkinson fired in 10 points in the final 45 seconds and the Bulldogs rallied to a 77-75 triumph against a Winona State team that had won 57 consecutive games.
“You guys did it; you did something amazing!” Lievense exclaimed during his induction comments.
He reviewed that the Cinderella journey was marked by progress, then adversity; progress and more adversity. Of immense concern was learning to win with No. 2 scorer and top rebounder Barovero sidelined with a broken hand.
At the holiday break, Barton’s record, Lievense remembered, hovered around .500. Then came a humiliating loss to Lenoir-Rhyne, prompting Lievense to call what he termed the most important meeting of his career. Players and coaches aired grievances and Lievense realized he was being too tough on his players.
“We became a team at that moment,” Barton’s head coach told his 2007 players, “and never looked back. I think we won 17 straight games.
“We accomplished something everybody said couldn’t be done. You did it. We formed a bond and brotherhood that will last forever.”
Of the evening, King responded: “We’ve done a pretty good job of staying in touch with one another, but it’s unbelievable to be back around a group of coaches and brothers (players) that were so special. It’s an incredible experience and it brings back a lot of memories.”
Added Dunn: “It’s perfect, absolutely! I have looked forward to it since I got invited. As soon as we got into town, it was like we had never missed each other.”
Lievense chose the occasion to speak of a “bold future.” He revealed that President Douglas Searcy and Director of Athletics Todd Wilkinson are endeavoring to create projects to improve facilities and bring in new teams.
“We’re not done yet,” Lievense insisted. “We’re still chasing the dream every day, and we need every one of you with us chasing that dream.”
In the meantime, Dunn is chasing his own dream.
“I hope I make it into the hall of fame some day,” he said.