By Stacy M. Brown, NNPA Newswire Correspondent
The Miles College Golden Bears Men’s Basketball team completed a stunning one-year turnaround this week by stunning LeMoyne-Owen 70-46 to win the historically black college’s first conference championship.
Now, as March Madness kicks into full gear, the Golden Bears have their sights set on a national championship – a feat that seemed laughable at this time last year.
“I expected that we were going to come out [for the conference title game] and do a really good job,” said first year Head Coach Fred Watson.
From the outset of the title game, The Golden Bears’ attacked offensively and showed the kind of defense that usually wins championships.
The conference tournament MVP LaByron Harris led the way with 19 points, five rebounds, two steals and two blocks while the Golden Bears’ trademark defense as they held the LeMoyne-Owen Magicians to just 46 points.
It was the eighth time this season that Miles’ defense held an opponent to under 50 points.
The victory and the suffocating defense usually leads to headlines at ESPN, Turner Sports and other outlets when the college basketball season hits the frenzy of championship season.
However, the Golden Bears have mostly been overlooked nationally.
“I hope they start taking notice,” Watson said. “We’ve been underrated and we’ve worked harder than anyone else in the country,” he said.
“It’s a little disappointing that [national media] have ignored us especially after losing 20 games last year and then winning 21 this year. That should be applauded.”
Despite the turnaround, he and his players were also mostly ignored in awards categories, Watson said.
“I told my guys that they can’t expect people to do right but they can trust God to make it right,” he said.
It is Watson’s drive and determination that played a large role in his hiring after the team finished a woeful 7-20 last season.
After the season, college President George T. French, Jr., and Athletic Director Reginald Ruffin hired Watson to change the direction of the program.
“When the search process started, our mission was to find a coach who possessed two defining characteristics: a relentless recruiter, and someone who has been part of building a winning culture at a SIAC Championship level. These characteristics were non-negotiable,” Ruffin said.
“With Coach Watson, we not only found a proven recruiter and winner, but we also found someone with an unwavering commitment to engaging and motivating communities throughout basketball. His commitment to developing young men into great athletes is astounding, most importantly, developing great scholars is more impressive,” he said.
French said the school was “committed to building a perennial championship program and I believe that Coach Fred Watson will lead us in that direction.”
The Golden Bears finished this season at 21-8 and now with a conference championship, Watson said he’s grateful that French and Ruffin gave him a shot and he’d like to bring a national title home as well.
“You want to reward the president and athletic director for believing in you,” he said.
Now, Watson and his crew are headed to the NCAA tournament in a quest for the national championship.
On Sunday, March 10, they will find out their tournament seeding and where they’ll play.
For Watson, who coached Benedict College to the NCAA Tournament six times, he’s simply excited to lead The Golden Bears there this time.
“It’s exciting. And, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention our Sixth Man – Miles College really came out and supported us, so we’ll be ready [for the NCAA tournament],” Watson said.