Hampton University is back for a consecutive run at the NCAA Division l Men’s Tournament title. As a #16 seed and a 23.5-point underdog, odds makers, sports analysts, and fans don’t give HU a fighting chance in facing the Cavaliers of the University of Virginia, in 2nd round of the tournament. But Hampton has been in the position before. Dating back to 2001, this 2016 bid will mark the HU’s sixth appearance in the tournament. In their very first Big Dance appearance, #15 seed Hampton beat #2 seed Iowa State, in one of the biggest upsets in NCAA tournament history. In the following 2001-2002 regular season, the pesky Pirates upset the Tarheels of North Carolina. The historically Black college was on the intercollegiate sports map.
If Hampton is David, UCONN, Duke, Kentucky, Georgetown, Iowa State, and now UVA are Goliaths. On Thursday, lowest seed and one of only two Black colleges (Southern University is in the First Four) in the tournament will attempt to conjure the unimaginable in sports history. But with a record of 2-5 in tournament play, Hampton believes they can beat any team. Whether the Pirates have a chip on their shoulder or not, this group of mostly transfer seniors, disagree with the lopsided predictions and naysayers. “We are a group of experienced seniors who have been here before. We have high expectations. We have winning expectations, “ said Reginald Johnson, the 2016 All-MEAC senior Guard, from the West side of Chicago, Ill. Johnson transferred from Miami of Ohio, while fellow 2016 ALL-MEAC Guard, Quinton Chievous, transferred from the University of Tennessee. They have experience and are a confident group with a history of upsets and close game victories.
In the 2015 First Four game, Hampton beat the Manhattan Jaspers by nine and went on to play the Wildcats of Kentucky, who were the current #1 team in the country. HU lost by 27 points to a seemingly invincible Kentucky team that outmatched them in size. Losing in 2015, inspired HU to return to the tournament in 2016. Johnson likes the physical matchup with UVA and believes the game will be much closer than what the sports world thinks. “We feel we match up well with UVA; man on man, he said.” This is the culture that HU Head Coach, Ed “Buck” Joyner, has created. This is his second appearance in the tournament, with a record on 1-1. “You put yourself in a position to win. And when you are prepared, you build winning teams, “Joyner said.
If Hampton wins, they will make history again. A #16 seed has never beaten a #1, much less won the championship. But the veteran group doesn’t give much weight to their seeding and welcomes the challenge of playing the highest ranked team in their bracket. “Not just getting there, but winning and advancing is our goal,” said reserve Guard, Gregory Pierre Hayden. “Smaller schools, like Gonzaga, have tournament success by building their program and that’s what our goal is here,” Joyner said. He plans to take advantage of Hampton’s national exposure in recruiting key players for next season and beyond. HU’s most notable player to date is former 19-year NBA veteran, Rick Mahorn, who was drafted in the 2nd round and the 35th overall in the 1980 NBA draft.
When the Pirates arrive in PNC Arena, in Raleigh, NC., they will carry a Black college culture and the Mid Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) on its backs. They represent the smaller school and athletic conference with something to prove. The university thrives as an academic institution with a reputation for Black Greek life and programs that support students of color. According the new america.org, Hampton and other black schools educate over 300,000 students yearly. “We play for Hampton, the MEAC and for all Black Colleges,” said Hayden.
The team believes their spiritual and culturally connectivity are strong intangibles. “We are bonded as a brotherhood. We are here as we prayed we would, “ said Johnson. The players understand what’s at stake but the overwhelming support reverberates on social media as students, alumni, and supporters claim bragging rights. A win would change the history of the NCAA tournament and Pirates feel very comfortable in that position. “We are the players they forgot about, but we are here and belong here,“ said Johnson.