NACOGDOCHES, TX (KTRE) - The Stephen F. Austin men's basketball team is just one dayfrom tip-off of arguably the biggest game in school history.
The Jacks will take the court against Virginia CommonwealthUniversity in the second round of the NCAA National Tournament Friday night.
All week long the community has been hyped; buying shirtsoff the shelf and showing up for a team sendoff Wednesday morning.
The players say all the added attention has been somethingthey are learning to embrace.
Senior, Deshaunt Walker, was almost cut last season byformer head coach Danny Kasper but new coach Brad Underwood gave Walker anotherchance and it has paid off as Walker has become a leader on the team.
"Walking around campus has been prettyexciting," Walker said. "Everybody is like, 'congratulations, congratulations.You've done so well.' "Me and Jake [Parker] walked into class today and we gota standing ovation. It was kind of embarrassing with all the attention. Ididn't really like it, but it's pretty fun. Everyone's acknowledged it andeverybody is excited to watch the game on Friday."
Brad Underwood is no stranger to thetournament and says that you have to take the attention and run with it.
"It's what it's all about," Underwood said. "It's bringingpeople closer together and when you walk around and see people smiling, that'sa good feeling. That's what college athletics does and that's what this teamhas done and from the watch party to everybody's a buss planning trips to thegame and that's exciting and that's that hopefully for our students, not justfor our student athletes but for our students and for our fans they have agreat deal of pride and to go down town and have everybody wish youcongratulations and good luck, that's special."
And while the players are getting used to the attention,they also say they are trying to remain calm about the whole experience.
"It's an honor we made it to the tournament we're excited,"Senior Desmond Haymon said. "We got to take care of business and stay focusedat the same time. We're staying humble with it knowing we can't get a big headbecause just making it to the tournament was not our dream. We want to go inthere and continue to dream big as Coach Underwood say so we got to stayfocused and we have great leadership to keep the guys focused on the task thatwe're trying to accomplish."
"A lot more people saying, 'We're proud of you, go representus,' things like that showing that," Junior Thomas Walkup said. "This communitydoes have our back, the student body has our back and their supporting us. That means a lot."
The 12th seeded Jacks play the 5thseeded VCU Rams Friday at 6:30 in San Diego, CA.