There’s this slogan the NCAA has about the section of blacktop on which travel is completed in the present location that you always see at their big event with the four teams who survive regional brackets. I won’t mention it, because we’ve seen that organization is very protective of its trademarks.
Therefore, I’ll go back to our good friends The Mid-Majority, who so greatly inspired me, as I’m sure they did the rest of you.
“It always ends with a loss.”
This year ended with a great loss for me as a journalist, and for the college community in general. We should probably start there.
Presbyterian coach Gregg Nibert resigned Wednesday morning.
Many of you probably had little to no reaction to that news. It’s understandable — PC has struggled in years past, lost its most recognizable player in the D1 era to Auburn as a transfer and most readers probably couldn’t put a pin anywhere within 50 miles of Clinton, South Carolina, on a map.
Gregg Nibert, however, is essentially everything that drew me to this great game, and primarily to the Big South Conference.
Don’t look at his Big South numbers. Don’t even pay them any mind. They’re not great, but that should be expected. PC has the smallest enrollment in the league — and it’s not close — and recruiting to Clinton and the Templeton Center probably isn’t the easiest task. If you absolutely have to evaluate the man by his on-court numbers, do so based on his five trips to postseason tournaments. Look at his 400-plus career victories. Make note of his 28 years as the steward of the Blue Hose program. Remember PC’s first conference tournament victory at the D1 level — which I was privileged to cover — and, despite its not showing in my video, the smile on Nibert’s face in the postgame presser.
That’s not even the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Gregg Nibert, however.
This humble giant of a man has been a champion for young lives all over South Carolina and beyond. Sure, the men he has shaped, molded and coached — he’s been known to call them his “sons”, as any great coach would — can tell their stories, but so too can those given a chance at life by Nibert and his wife Peggy.
Some may have become familiar with Gregg and Peggy Nibert through Shawn Krest’s incredible story of the couple and the love and compassion they have shown for at-risk children. Peggy felt a calling to open the Niberts’ home to children who had lived through abuse. Children who had nowhere else to go. Children who, as an ESPN segment several years ago profiled, eventually found homes as kind as Gregg and Peggy’s home. (Please click the link and watch that video, by the way. It very well may change your life.) In saving the lives of others, Peggy even saved the life of her husband, which Krest’s story chronicles.
I’m not a soul noted for publicly-expressed emotion. This story has brought me to tears on more occasions than I can bear to count. People like Gregg and Peggy Nibert exist all over South Carolina. Just like the college Nibert guided for nearly three decades, that, too, is a fairly well-kept secret.
I may never remember Coach Nibert’s statistics. They may slip the bond of my mind even after I publish this piece. I will forever remember the story of this man and his family who every day set an example of how to live and love others above yourself.
To be sure, a number of things Coach Nibert did on the floor will stay with me, too. I’ll never forget his love of calling timeouts after made baskets early in second halves, and occasionally — and playfully — joking about how he did so. The vision of his walking the sidelines and continually coaching his kids, even when the final score seemed determined, will stay with me for as long as I do this.
So, too, will the kindness of a man who always had time for everyone…even a small-time journalist like the one spilling the digital ink you’re reading.
Thank you, Coach. For everything. May your journey be as blessed as you’ve made those of others.
Blue Hose assistant John Reynolds will guide the program on an interim — at least — basis. I’m a reporter and try to keep my thoughts on things like this to myself, for the most part, but PC would do extremely well to give him the full-time gig. That is not to say there are not great candidates for the job — there reportedly are — but Coach Reynolds would be an inspired choice.
Presbyterian is a special place, in more ways than one. It only makes sense to name someone familiar with the challenges to guide the program. Reynolds is more than just a coach, too, having earned his MBA and gone through the rigors of playing at The Citadel. He is also a young and energetic leader who could be a huge driver in shaping the next steps for his institution.
We’ll definitely keep an eye on this situation as it unfolds.
And then, there’s the saga of Winthrop’s Pat Kelsey. Yes, that still reads Winthrop’s Pat Kelsey.
After Kelsey’s Eagles won the Big South regular-season and tournament titles most conventional wisdom assumed he was not long for South Carolina. I assumed it. Even after he departed for UMass, the sense seemed on the whole to be more of gratitude and recognition, not betrayal for his having left.
Then, a wild scene unfolded. A triumphant 4 p.m. press conference never happened. Media were led out of the building. The fanfare disappeared as quickly as it was put into place. It was reported that Kelsey had a “change of heart”, then returned to Rock Hill. The Herald‘s Bret McCormick — as always — did yeoman’s work in outlining the entire timeline of the story. As inexplicable as it was around the country, it was even more so here in the Palmetto State.
UMass landed on its feet after the brief setback, landing Chattanooga’s Matt McCall to guide its program. Winthrop got back the man who transformed its program. This is not to say that Kelsey won’t leave again down the road — he almost assuredly will, as his coaching star is rising — but he will be on the sideline to see the unveiling of the banner that he and his team earned in 2016-17. To listen to the man speak, you’ll hear lots of talk about hanging banners. Knowing that he will be forever associated with one of the most magical seasons in the still-brief history of a storied program has to be quite the prize.
He’ll also bring back a staff about whom he continually raves. One of those coaches, Mark Prosser, was considered by many to be a frontrunner to take over the lead chair from Kelsey. Yet another, Brian Kloman, was reportedly set to head to UMass with Kelsey.
Though honorable mention All-American Keon Johnson is gone, along with intimidating paint defender Duby Okeke and a number of stellar seniors, it should be yet another great season for Kelsey’s Eagles. However it turns out, though, Winthrop will be hard-pressed to duplicate this year’s developments — at least, on some fronts.
Finally, there’s us — and me.
This was another banner year for us here at College Hoops Digest. We had credentialed writers courtside for the first four games of South Carolina’s shocking tournament run. We — again — covered the eventual national champion. The NCAA played in one of its newer venues on the tournament scene (Greenville, S.C.’s Bon Secours Wellness Arena) and the so-called “mecca” (Madison Square Garden), among others, and we got to experience both. I also covered my fifth Big South tournament, a memorable affair that saw the home side cut down the nets on its floor, but not before an epic overtime battle with Gardner-Webb that saw a nearly-packed house seemingly living and dying on each possession. It left me nearly deaf and scrambling for words.
In that tournament, I was privileged to cover another game I will never forget.
Seventh-seeded Campbell took the floor for a contest with dominant second-seeded UNC Asheville for the first game of the afternoon session at Winthrop Coliseum, with a less-than-full house — to be kind — on hand to watch. Campbell entered the game 15-16, having beaten — coincidentally enough — Presbyterian in a play-in game just to earn the 1 p.m. outing.
Little did we know that the Chris Clemons Show would air its finest episode right in front of our eyes.
I sat with Bret and Damien Sordelett of the Lynchburg (Va.) News & Advance, watching bucket after bucket drop from Clemons. The numbers just kept incrementing.
Nine points before the first media. 25 at the half. 31 five-plus minutes into the second half. 40 at the 5:53 mark. 51 when the final horn sounded. Even my game story fell markedly short of describing what we saw. Clemons would key one of the most incredible tournament runs we will ever see, almost singlehandedly putting Campbell on the map. Throughout it all, he deflected the mountains of praise he received to his teammates.
Camel coach Kevin McGeehan and his troops then went on an impressive run in the CIT, before finally falling to Furman. It may have ended with a loss for McGeehan, Clemons and the Camels, but one has to believe there are plenty more wins in store for them — especially if Clemons finishes his eligibility in Buies Creek.
It all began for me this season on a buzzing Winthrop campus. The Eagles brought in a raucous Homecoming crowd to watch their club beat Division III Ferrum College.
It ended with the second stop on North Carolina’s Redemption Tour 2017 — Greenville, South Carolina. A beautiful springlike Sunday saw the Tar Heels take down Arkansas, while the upstart Gamecocks took down mighty Duke in front of what I still say is one of the top-three most rowdy atmospheres I have ever experienced for college basketball. Fans came out to Greenville in droves — we all knew they would, to be fair, with two shades of blue and garnet-and-black so close by — but they were involved from the opening jump to the final horn, and combined with the city of Greenville, Bon Secours Wellness Arena staff, and volunteers and staffers from the area to put on one hell of a regional. Here’s to hoping they get another crack at it soon.
The middle chapters of this season’s book for your humble correspondent were also quite fulfilling. Along with the Big South, I covered teams from Conference USA, the Atlantic Sun, the Southern Conference, America East, the MEAC and more. I saw incredible individual performances, the closing acts of wonderful collegiate careers, and the arrival of new stars on the landscape. I did it all while incredulously screaming at you on Twitter about some crazy development, or commanding you to get to a television or internet outlet to watch yet another inexplicable finish.
Amazingly enough, you all followed me — and us here at CHD — along for the ride. For that, I am, yet again, humbled and grateful.
I also — and most importantly — realize that absolutely none of this would have happened without the help of the wonderful people who have been so kind and supportive of the site and me for so long. Most of those people are unsung heroes in their programs you’ll never see — whether it’s SIDs like North Carolina Central’s Jonathan Duren (my dude — he’s gonna be a star), Gardner-Webb’s Marc Rabb, Charlotte’s Brent Stastny and all the countless others I don’t have space to name, or operations staff like Winthrop’s Clint Waugh, who joined with his staff to put in hundreds of hours to put on a stellar tournament on incredibly short notice.
There is also Winthrop’s sports information crew, who are kind enough to let me cover the league as a guest in their house. Brett Redden, Jack Frost and Rick Rogers are all top-notch professionals, and like the others I’ve mentioned, perform their duties with grace, skill and a tremendous sense of humor. Jack announced his retirement this season, and though I’ve already privately offered my best wishes in his retirement, let me again publicly do so here. Here’s to a great pro and a better man.
Also, to all the coaches, players and families, thank you. I remain ever appreciative of your time and willingness to help, and I appreciate your impact on me as a writer and human being.
As he prepared to leave the microphone following his team’s Big South tournament exit, Charleston Southern coach Barclay Radebaugh told me he’d see me at Media Day. I look forward to seeing him, the many great people of the Big South, and you again this fall.