All business for No. 8 Wallace State men's basketball as it gears up for 1st ever appearance at NJCAA National Championship
HANCEVILLE – Wallace State Community College's men's basketball coach Allen Sharpe has made one thing clear to his team as it makes its first ever appearance this week in the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) Division I National Basketball Championship at Hutchinson, Kan.
"This is not a vacation or a pleasure trip. We are going to try to win another championship," said Sharpe, who's in his fifth season with the Lions. "You don't pick Hutch to go on vacation because there's not much over there other than wheat fields. Everyone should know we aren't just happy to get out there. We want to win."
Wallace State, the NJCAA Region XXII qualifier and eighth-ranked team in the nation, plays its first-round game Tuesday at 8:30 p.m. vs. Butler (Kan.) Community College at the Sports Arena in Hutchinson, Kan.
All games will be streamed live on Njcaa.org through NJCAA TV.
When the Lions (29-4) hit the floor Tuesday night, they will be 10 days removed from winning their first ever Alabama Community College Conference (ACCC) tournament championship. In the title game, Wallace State overcame a nine-point deficit with only 2:35 remaining in regulation and defeated rival Shelton State 77-70 in overtime.
"It felt real good to win it in my hometown, but it felt even better to bring back a championship to Wallace State," said forward Ricardo Hall, a graduate of Hillcrest and a tournament Co-MVP. "A turning point for us as a team came after we lost to Gadsden State on homecoming (Feb. 25). It made us realize that everyone was gunning for us."
Wallace State knocked off Northwest Shoals and top seeds Alabama Southern and Shelton State in the tournament after failing to win the title in two previous trips to the ACCC championship game.
"Last year it was right in the hands for the taking and we let it slip away. This year we've just worked so much harder. I guess we wanted it more," said 6-foot-7 center Darrick Thomas, who averages a team-high 7.7 rebounds. "We wanted to make history. Teams have come through Wallace State and won 30 games and been ranked No. 1, but none had ever won that trophy until us. It's nice to be the first ones."
After defeating Shelton State on its homecourt, Wallace State now has the challenge of playing Butler Community College in its home state. Butler CC is located in El Dorado, Kan., just 70 miles from the NJCAA's host site.
Butler CC (29-5), the Region VI qualifier, is making its fifth tournament appearance and first since 1996. The Grizzlies are paced by Nebraska signee Caleb Walker, who averages 16.8 points and 8.1 rebounds per game.
"Walker is by far their best player. He plays on the wing and makes things happen. Everyone else is just solid. Butler is a good team," Sharpe said. "We know we are going to have to play well to win the game. I hope we can get off to a good start and we're not in shell shock or in awe of the surroundings. A good start is imperative. We need to go right after them."
Sharpe and the Lions don't mind playing the role of spoiler.
"A lot of people want to see Butler CC win. The longer they stay alive, the more money it makes for the tournament. There's a little bit of pressure on them since they have the home-court advantage, plus it's the feature game," said Sharpe, whose team arrived in Kansas on Sunday afternoon. "Your team kind of comes together better in situations like this. I like playing on the road because it's like you against the world. You've got to be a team and on board with each other."
Sophomore guard L.A. Farmer paces Wallace State's attack with 17.4 points per game. Farmer, a Region XXII First-Team selection, is also the team leader in FGs made (200), 3-pointers (61) and free throws (96 of 128 for 75 percent).
Farmer was named ACCC Co-Tournament MVP with Hall after scoring 26 points--including nine in overtime--in the title game victory over Shelton State.
Sergio Crowe (11.4), Thomas (10.5) and Hall (10.0) also average double figures for the Lions.
Wallace State is one of seven teams at the tournament who were ranked in the top 15 of the final regular season poll at the end of February.
Other participants at the NJCAA National Championship include Southeastern Illinois College, Walters State College (Tenn.), Northwest Florida State College, North Platte Community College (Neb.), Brunswick CC (N.C.), Southeastern CC (Iowa), Middle Georgia College, Navarro College (Texas), the College of Eastern Utah, Connors State College (Okla.), Monroe College (N.Y.), Three Rivers CC (Mo.) and Howard College (Texas).
For more information about Wallace State athletics, visit wallacestate.edu.