By Donal Ware
On Thursday night the Shaw Bears have an opportunity to do something that
hasn’t been done in 25 years. The Bears, who are undefeated in CIAA play
and are ranked No. 9 nationally in the NABC Division II Coaches poll and
No. 1 in the Boxtorow National Division II/NAIA HBCU Basketball Poll,
could be the first team to go undefeated in CIAA regular season play since
the Norfolk State Spartans went undefeated during the 1986-87 season.
It won’t be easy as the Bears take on cross-town rival Saint Augustine’s (13-12, 8-7), who the Bears defeated 70-62 on January 21 in Shaw’s Gymnasium. The Falcons, who are looking to improve their seeding in next week’s CIAA Tournament in Charlotte, are a scrappy bunch.
There is still plenty of season to play for the Bears. They will go into the tournament as the No.1 seed out of the Southern Division, which means they only have to win three games to defend their CIAA crown. And then there is March Madness and the NCAA Division II National Tournament, that despite what happens on Thursday night or in the CIAA Tournament, the Bears are assured a seat at the table.
And with the season that the Bears are having and the talent the Bears have, the comparisons to the 2002 CIAA and Final Four Championship team are inevitable. First and foremost, as talented as the Bears are this year, the talent level of the CIAA as a whole in 2002 was better. This year may be the most talent the CIAA as had since 2001-02, but it’s hard to stack it up against the league from that year. Three CIAA team’s made it to the NCAA Tournament that year.
Everybody has taken their best shot at the Bears this year. The teams that haven’t had a great season record-wise are the teams that took Shaw to the limit, for example Livingstone (Shaw won 80-77 in overtime at Spaulding) and Fayetteville State. (Shaw won 92-84 in double overtime at Spaulding). The Bears fared much better against Bowie State (W 83-73) and clobbered Winston-Salem State twice.
Secondly, the 2002 Bears had one of the CIAA’s all-time greatest players in Ronald “Flip” Murray who was named Division II National Player of the Year and had a career average of 9.9 points per game in the NBA.
But let’s look at the comparisons player for player between this year’s team and the 2002 team.
Murray vs. Malik Alvin. Alvin is the leading candidate for CIAA Player of the Year. He is second in the CIAA in scoring 20.4 ppg; shooting 53 percent from three-point range which is second in the country. He has scored 20 or more points in a game 15 times this year. Alvin is getting some looks from NBA scouts. Murray was the Division II National Player of the Year. He averaged 23.5 points and also led the team with 6.2 assists per game. Both guards were quick, but Murray was much more explosive and commanded the double team much more, which helped enable him to also average 6.2 assists per game. Both are tough-nosed and are from Philadelphia.
J.R. Raymond vs. Tony Smith. Smith is the most complete guard and the purest point guard in the CIAA. At 6-5 he sees the floor extremely well. His assist to turnover ratio is 2-to-1 and is tops in the CIAA and he is averaging more than six assists per game. He averages 11.6 points and 6.9 rebounds per game to boot. He messed around and got a triple-double against Johnson C. Smith (11 points, 10 assists, 10 rebounds). Raymond on the other hand was more of a scoring point guard and averaged 16.3 points per game and shot 43 percent from three-point range. He was a deadly scorer. While this particular comparison is point guard to point guard, you could argue that Smith is to this team what Murray was to that ’02 team – the heart and soul.
Jarrett Kearse vs. Derrick Hunter/Devon McClendon. Hunter is more of the lockdown defender whereas McClendon is a good defender but can score and has the ability to play above the rim. Both are an integral part of the team. Kearse gave the 2002 Bears another outside threat to go along with Raymond and Van Williams. Kearse was also a very smart basketball player.
Kenyon Booker vs. Karron Johnson. Johnson is definitely playing out of position playing the four spot. But at 6-8, 240, he can easily dominate in the post and is sometimes tripled team. The former top 100 recruit from Richmond, VA is a man-child that can rebound, plays above the rim, and can shoot from outside. NBA scouts have come to see him play numerous times this year. When he is coming down the lane either get out of the way or get run over. Booker was more of a finesse player, who had an excellent jumper for a man 6-9. He was an outstanding rebounder and a decent shot blocker.
Steve Bynes vs. Junius Chaney. Chaney is one of the league’s premier post players. He has an array of moves with his back to the basket. Chaney is averaging 12.2 points and 6.4 rebounds per game. Like Johnson, Bynes was a top 100 player and was in the same high school class as current NBA players Al Harrington and Rashard Lewis. Bynes was a great player in the post and could also play above the rim. He was also a solid shot blocker. He averaged 15.9 points, 7.3 rebounds and shot 67 percent from the field while averaging almost two blocks per game.
Off this year’s Shaw bench comes pure shooter Latrail McCoy who at anytime could give you double figure scoring with his three-point shooting ability, Curtis Hines who can score and doesn’t make a lot of mistakes with the ball and any other year would easily be averaging double figures, and Mohammed Abdur-Rahim who is a very good post player. Compare them with Cedric Lusk who at 6-8 was an outstanding three-point shooter and ball handler, Harrell Butler a very good shooter who could play the 3 or 4, and current Wake Tech Community College head men’s basketball coach Van Williams who was instant offense and a three-point specialist off the bench.
This current team is deeper than that ’02 team, but Flip Murray many a night put that team on his back and carried them. He is the x-factor. (Current Harlem Globetrotter Anthony Greenup, who went on to lead the nation in field goal shooting at 71 percent and was a great shot blocker during his two years playing for the Bears, sat out during that ’02 season. Imagine if the Bears had him on that team.).
So which team is the better team?
“I think in the end in order for the comparison to be fair, this team would have to win a CIAA Championship and go deep into the national playoffs,” said Cleo Hill, Jr. the current head coach, then the assistant and architect of that ’02 team.
The current team has a better record through 25 games (23-2) and has a chance to make some history for itself if they can go undefeated in the CIAA. (The ’02 team was 21-4 through 25 games and finished 28-5.)
Its place in history and continued road to the national championship begins Thursday night at Emery Gymnasium against the Falcons.
It will be sold out so get there early.
(If you can’t get in listen to the game on WSHA-FM 88.9 beginning at 7:15 p.m.)
Known as the Voice of Black College Sports, Donal Ware has covered historically black college and university sports and pro sports across the U.S. for years. He is the host of the nationally syndicated FROM THE PRESS BOX TO PRESS ROW which airs on SiriusXM Channel 141 Fridays from 1-2 p.m. and on radio stations around the country including Saturdays from 11-Noon p.m. on WAUG-AM 750 in the Triangle and from 1-2 p.m. at www.boxtorow.com. You can follow him on twitter @dware1 or @boxtorow