NATIONAL CHAMPION BASKETBALL BOBCATS RETURN HOME
Written By: Rebecca Patrick
Email Address: email@example.com
Date Submitted: 2014-03-28 08:28:08
ELLISVILLE – Even a four-hour delay, chilly winds and the threat of rain couldn’t dampen the spirits of the nearly 200 fans and friends of Jones County Junior College who came out Sunday afternoon to welcome home the 2014 NJCAA Division I National Champion Bobcat men’s basketball team.
After spending more than a week in Hutchinson, Kan. and winning five games in five nights to capture the title, the Bobcats headed home immediately after their stunning upset victory over the Number One ranked Indian Hills (Iowa) Warriors on Saturday night.
The Bobcats, who earned the right to participate in the national tournament by winning the Region 23 title, finished the season 28-5, the most wins ever for a JCJC basketball team. They also have the distinction of being the first team from Mississippi and Region 23 to bring home the national title.
In addition to the team honors, Leroy (Truck) Fludd, a 6’5” freshman guard from Brooklyn, NY was named the tournament’s most valuable player, while Johnny Zuppardo, a 6’9” sophomore forward from Kiln was named to the All-Tournament team.
Scheduled to be back in Ellisville at noon Sunday, the Bobcats were delayed in Shreveport, LA when their bus broke down. Securing replacement transportation took a little extra time, but once the team hit the Jones County line, they picked up blue light escorts from the sheriff’s department and rolled onto campus at 3:45 p.m.
Players exited the bus holding high the 2014 National Championship trophy and wearing National Championship t-shirts and caps. Many of the caps were adorned with pieces of the net that the players took turns cutting down after defeating Indian Hills 87-77.
Members of the JCJC Student Government Association spent several hours Saturday and Sunday making signs and confetti bombs to greet the players upon their return.
“We knew we needed to do something,” said JCJC sophomore Lewis Bateman. “So, about eight or nine of us met Saturday afternoon to make signs. Most of us were part of the ‘Bleacher Creatures’ who supported the team all season and we wanted do something special to welcome them home.”
Bateman added that he believed the players really didn’t know what their win had done for the college.
“They just put Ellisville on the map,” he said. “They have a huge fan base here. It’s like one of the speakers said, there’s a community college in Iowa that knows where Ellisville, Miss. is now.”
Once the team had enjoyed a few moments of cheering and hugs, the players made their way to the front of the A. B. Howard Gymnasium for a brief homecoming program.
Ellisville mayor Tim Waldrup presented keys to the City of Ellisville to Bobcat head coach Jay Ladner and athletic director Katie Herrington.
“You know this is a community that includes the City of Ellisville and Jones County Junior College,” said Waldrup who is a retired JCJC vice president. “We are all a part of the Bobcat Nation. We appreciate you guys and what you have done and everything you mean to Ellisville.”
Herrington, a former basketball player and coach, attended all of JCJC’s national tournament games. She had nothing but praise for the squad.
“I know many of you watched (the internet broadcasts of) the games,” she said. “I can’t begin to explain the heart they played with. I tried to think of words to say on my 13-hour trip home to explain how well these guys played and how hard they played.
“They played with focus and intensity and determination, and those words don’t even begin to reach how hard they played. Every night we thought, ‘I don’t know if we can pull this one out.’ But, they battled and they battled and they found a way. I’m telling you, I don’t know of too many teams that I’ve seen play with that kind of heart and passion.”
As Ladner took the microphone, he expressed gratitude for the support of the crowd.
“We’re overwhelmed by this showing and that it means enough to y’all to come out on a Sunday afternoon and support these young men as they return home,” he said. “I’m very proud of the way our players carried themselves (at the tournament). They represented Ellisville, Jones County, South Mississippi, the state of Mississippi and the Southeast very well.”
Ladner alluded to the fact that the players had spent the better part of the past 15 hours riding a bus home.
“Right now,” he laughed, “they may be a bit smelly and probably a little bit unkempt, but that’s the meanest, toughest son-of-a-guns on the basketball court you’ll ever want to see. They didn’t back down to nobody.”
Compared to the other teams they faced, the Bobcats came up short in the height department. Ladner said that what the team lacked in height was never a factor in tournament play, especially in the championship game against Indian Hills.
“We worked them over on the boards, we worked them over on defense,” Ladner said. “They were the Number One team in the country. The last thing I’ll say is that we certainly didn’t come in the back door (to win the tournament).
“Because of our seeding, we had to be the Number 22 team. We turned around and beat the Number 6th ranked team. Then we beat, in consecutive order on consecutive nights, the third ranked team in the country, the second ranked team in the country and the Number One ranked team in the country. And, now, you’re looking at the Number One ranked team in the country!”
Former Bobcat basketball player Wayne Folkes (1979-81) felt it was important to be a part of the Bobcats’ homecoming celebration. Not only is Folkes a JCJC alumnus, he also coached Bobcat head coach Jay Ladner.
“I coached Jay back in 1983-84 when he was a senior at Oak Grove High School,” Folkes said, adding that he has even more ties with the Ladner family. “Jay’s mom worked for my dad and Jay’s dad taught me at USM. Years later, I was the principal at Oak Grove when we hired Jay as our head coach. That was the year before he took the job at Jones.”
Over the years, Folkes has kept up with Bobcat athletics, but this year, he said, was special. Because of this, he wanted to be in attendance to welcome the young men back to Jones.
“We’re extremely proud of what they’ve done,” Folkes said of the team. “To come from 11th ranked going into the tournament to winning five nights in a row to winning the national championship by beating the Number One ranked team – that’s just a great accomplishment. I wanted to show my support to the young men who represented our college the way it should be represented and I also wanted to be there for Coach Ladner.”