The Master's University's Basketball Team Named #1 In The Nation
(2 months ago)
SANTA CLARITA, Calif., Feb. 24: "Yeah, it would be a great honor to be No. 1," said The Master's University guard Lawrence Russell on Saturday. "It would be a big deal for the school and the program to show how far we've come."
Now, for the first time in program history, TMU men's basketball is officially the No. 1 team in the country, earning all nine first-place votes to Tuesday's NAIA Division 1 Coaches' Top 25 Poll.
"It's crazy to think last year was a really good season and being in the top 25 was huge for us," said point guard Hansel Atencia. "... To be No. 1, that's crazy."
Master's is 25-1 overall and 11-0 in Golden State Athletic Conference play with a chance to claim at least a share of its first-ever, regular-season GSAC title with a win Saturday at Westmont College in Santa Barbara.
The Mustangs have beaten eight teams ranked in the top 25 or receiving votes. They've also beaten two NCAA Division 2 teams, Concordia University Irvine and Azusa Pacific University, in exhibition games.
For Dave Caldwell, who has provided play-by-play commentary for TMU home games the last six seasons and previously did work for Cal State Northridge basketball and ESPN, the best part has been watching the team come together.
"You can see it in their intensity, how competitive they are, that they want to win and they are legitimately unselfish players," Caldwell said. "I've seen guys high-fiving and smiling and pointing at other guys when they do something spectacular or make a critical shot. "It's like they're a unit."
That may be, in part, because of their shared faith.
"I think we all know that we are doing this to glorify God and to show Christ to people by the way we play," Atencia said. "Having that mindset has helped us stay humble and hungry for more because we all know that every time we go out there, for a practice or game, it's an opportunity that we can't take for granted."
So far, that hasn't been a problem.
Master's ranks fourth in the country in scoring offense and 18th in scoring defense - all while playing in arguably the toughest conference in the NAIA, a conference from which several teams have made successful transitions to NCAA Division 2 basketball in recent years.
The Mustangs, though, are focused on one thing.
"Our main goal is winning GSAC," Russell said. "We know if we take care of (that), the rankings will take care of themselves."