HARRISONBURG– In March of 1996, Mariah Carey and Boyz II Men dominated the charts with their Billboard #1 song One Sweet Day. Up Close and Personal was atop the box office. Gas cost $1.28.
Fast forward 25 years later, Olivia Rodrigo tops the charts with Drivers License. Raya and the Last Dragon is the number one film. Gas costs $3.00.
Both of these things have one thing consistent. 1996 was the last time the Drexel Men’s Basketball Program reached the NCAA Tournament, led by Drexel legend Malik Rose, after winning the America East championship.
It was a long 25 years, but the Drexel Dragons are heading back to the dance floor and have punched their ticket to the NCAA Tournament, after taking down Elon in the CAA Championship by a final score of 63-56.
“I’m just really happy for our players and our coaching staff,” Drexel Head Coach Zach Spiker said. “Assistant coaches that had to make a decision at some point to leave a different school and different location because of the vision that we talked about and they believed in what we were talking about and just super, super happy for those guys in that locker room.”
If you were watching the broadcast all the way to the end, you could see how much this title meant to him and his players. The CBS Sports Network broadcast cut to Spiker about 45 seconds after the final horn sounded and you could visibly see tears rolling down his cheeks, even through the mask.
“I wasn’t crying what are you talking about?” Spiker said jokingly to me.
It wasn’t just him though. Drexel star guard Cam Wynter, who took home tournament MVP honors, was letting the emotions flow as well.
“That joy that you saw after the game, when you can see Cam Wynter, and I might even get emotional talking about it, but Cam Wynter could not speak,” Spiker said. “He couldn’t speak, he had tears flowing down his cheeks, his face, he couldn’t speak and this was a guy that we worked really hard to get and I don’t know how close it was to get him or not, but at the time it was kind of like a good match and I think it’s really rewarding and validating for those guys to stick with it.”
“I’m just speechless,” Wynter said. “None of the individual awards mean much to me, everyday I walk into the gym, I look at the CAA Championship banner, and I just want to put one right next to that one, I’m just speechless.”
“You’re getting an incredible degree, a top 100 academic program at Drexel, and now you’re getting a top 100 basketball experience as well and that’s a pretty awesome feeling for a young man to have.” Spiker added.
This is a super gratifying win for all involved when you look big picture or small picture.
Looking smaller picture, the circumstances surrounding this season with COVID and everything that comes with it including pauses, quarantines, having a swab shoved up your nose multiple times a week, it’s a challenge for everyone involved.
“It might be one of the hardest [championship] to win,” Wynter said. “No spring session, no summer session to get freshmen ready and build chemistry and kind of just throwing everybody in September and see what you get by the time the season starts, this season was definitely odd.”
Drexel had nine games cancelled due to COVID protocols, and they even ended up playing just two conference games at home. The seeding for the tournament was all out of whack, and some of the seeding was pretty misleading, hence why Drexel only earned a 6-seed.
“Listen, if we lose that game to JMU, we have to play another game,” Spiker said. “Four games in four days are more difficult as three games in three days, it put us in a situation where you play three, it was really big from that standpoint but if I’m honest, coming down here I knew we were getting better, I saw practice, I saw the film.”
Looking bigger picture, this is a culmination of a bunch of not-so-great season for the Dragons record wise. Since Spiker took over the program in 2016, the Dragons combined record is 61-88 and 26-55 in CAA play (minus conference tournaments).
“It’s a huge credit to Coach Spiker for basically turning the program around in just a couple of years and not taking chances on different guys who maybe had some more hype then other players, that’s just how we’re built.” Wynter said.
“I’m happy for our players,” Spiker said. “I’m happiest for our players and our coaching staffs and their families, if you think about everybody’s girlfriend or spouses on our coaching staff and the time that’s put in, you guys come to the games, you don’t come to the practices or film sessions at 1am, everyone’s at home doing their own thing trying to figure out how we can get better, I hope it’s rewarding and so appreciative for all those people to sacrifice and have success.”
Being in the moment, being present is something coaches preach all of the time, but Spiker took it to another level. Be present in the moment. Don’t just focus on the game, focus on everything that comes prior to the game
“We talked a lot about last 20 hours just be present, be in the exact moment,” Spiker said. “We’re not worried about a game, we’re worried about getting to a film session right now, we’re worried about our recovery, we’re worried about the right walk through, how we’re going to cover things, be present, be poised in that moment, and move with purpose, we’re not going to run like crazy, we just talked a lot about that since we beat Northeastern.”
“I had to put my phone down yesterday just to kind of shut it off,” Spiker said. “You get people that you know are close and mentors, your coaches, kind of like finally this is your life, people are watching and following, can’t keep up with that stuff, just be present, be poised and move with purpose, that’s what we were doing.”
Now, the culmination of being in the moment and staying locked in has all come to fruition.
“We had some tough, tough losses that you stick with and builds some character and makes you feel a little better about things,” Spiker said. “When we had the chance to practice, we approached it the right way and got better as the season goes on.”
All the losses, all the injuries, all the tough times spent in the program has all paid off to have a special moment such as this.
“It’s the reason I came here, it’s the reason Coach Spiker recruited me, he took a chance on me, I did everything I could help bring a CAA Championship back to Philadelphia.” Wynter said.