National Championship slowly sinking in for coach Jon Felmet, Richland College basketball team

“We made it this far why not finish it out” was a constant saying for the Richland College basketball players throughout their unforgettable journey toward winning the 2009 NJCAA Division III National Championship on March 14 in New York.

For coach Jon Felmet, the thought of winning Richland College’s second national basketball championship still hasn’t set in.

“It is slowly but not completely,” Felmet, who was named the Gary Cole Coach of the Tournament, said. “The trip made many memories for me and the team that will last forever. I’m so happy for the assistant coaches, our student assistant and players for all of the work they have put in all year. And with these last three games, it was all worth it.”

IMPROBABLE TITLE RUN

Entering the National Championship tournament with the momentum of winning the Metro Athletic Conference title, despite not being ranked among the top 10 NJCAA Division III teams, Felmet said that if his team picked up where it left off in conference play, it should be in a very good spot to win the national championship.

And the way the T-Ducks (14-19) opened the National Championship tournament, with a convincing 67-47 victory over No. 7-ranked Mass Bay Community College, the road to the championship looked easy.

However, it was the complete opposite. Richland College, which finished the season on an eight-game winning streak and having won 14 of its final 15 games, needed to win to two nail- biters to bring home the coveted title.

In the semifinal round against No. 2-ranked Hudson Valley Community College, the T-Ducks relied on the heroics of Deionta Mitchell, who scored the winning basket with only six seconds left in the contest, to lift his team to a narrow 59-57 win.

If that wasn’t close enough, the T-Ducks’ Antwan Mullins had to make a clutch basket and free throw in the final seconds to secure the 58-57 victory over No. 1-ranked Minneapolis Community and Technical College.

“When we were playing [higher division colleges such as] Collin College, McLennan, Hill College, San Jacinto College, Grayson College, Angelina College, Lamar State and Connors State we were preparing,” Felmet said about the toughness of his pre-conference schedule. “We lost so many close games against teams many thought we shouldn’t have been on the floor with. Going through all of those tough, hard fought games prepared us for conference play, and for the national tournament. We were prepared, and knew the guys would pull the game out because they stuck together this far, why not.”

DEEP, BALANCED TEAM PAYS OFF FOR T-DUCKS 

It also helped that the T-Ducks had a very balanced, deep team.

Throughout the tournament, Richland College played 12 to 13 guys a game while the T-Ducks’ opponents played only eight to nine, Felmet said.

Richland College also finished the tournament with seven players averaging at least five points. Among those players was Chibuzo Elonu, whose high-energy style of play led him to being named Tournament MVP after contributing 8.6 points and seven rebounds per game.

Giorden Cole, who averaged 6.8 points and seven rebounds per game during the tournament, also was named to the All-Tournament Team.

Meanwhile, pre-season all-Americans Tony Bishop and Mullins had solid contributions. Bishop averaged 8.6 points, six rebounds and two blocks while Mullins totaled 6.3 points, four assists, 3.3 rebounds and two steals.

“We were very talented. We had good guards, and good posts. The biggest thing is how close they were,” Felmet said. “We were talented but we were close. I think that helped us win the national championship because each guy wanted to win it for his teammate.”

A HISTORIC SEASON 

Over the years, Richland College has had its share of successful teams. There was the 1999 national championship team, the 11 straight conference championship squads in the 70s and 80s, the 2002 the 2005 teams that finished third and 2003 group that finished fifth at the national championship tournament.

But when Felment thinks about this year’s championship team ranking among the Richland College greats, he said, “This team is definitely in that mix. There could be many arguments about which ones were better but I know this team will always be special to me.”

And when asked if he could sum up this team and season, he added, “Four words … one family, one goal.”