by Donovan Dooley
(courtesy of The Undefeated)
There aren’t many teams in Sports History that have gone from worst to first in consecutive seasons. The feeling of adulation after becoming a champion following a year of turmoil is unmatched. Only a handful teams such as the 2008 Boston Celtics, 1999 St. Louis Rams and 2009 New Orleans Saints, have ever accomplished this feat.
However, the North Carolina A&T Men’s basketball team is looking to join this selective group.
After a 3-29 record in the previous season that saw the Aggies win only one game against a division one opponent, North Carolina A&T now has the best overall record in the MEAC and is currently in a five way tie for first place in the MEAC.
Redshirt Junior Forward and Oakland University transfer, Femi Olujobi, was forced to sit out last season because of NCAA rules, but he saw firsthand the struggles of the team. Now that he is able to play he has been one of the main catalysts in the Aggies success.
“This year we all have a common goal in mind, from day one we all knew that we wanted to not only compete for a championship but also change the culture of the program,” stated Olujobi. This was one of his major goals during his sit-out year.
Olujobi, who at one time earlier this season led the NCAA in scoring, has certainly done his part to change the culture at NCAT. The Long Island, New York native and Liberal Studies major is averaging 16.5 points per game and 7.6 rebounds per game in 24 games this season.
While his individual performance is a huge reason for NCAT’s turnaround, Olujobi said the team’s chemistry is an integral part in the team’s success.
“We spent a lot more time with each other than we did the year before; we got to learn each other a lot better,” said Olujobi. “Chemistry, work ethic and buying into each other and the coaching staff is what helped us get to where we are now. “
Redshirt Senior Guard, Denzel Keyes, agreed with Olujobi about the team’s new bond. Keyes returned back to the court this year for the Aggies after breaking his foot in pursuit of an NFL Football career as a Wide receiver.
“We just got a whole different vibe this year. Everybody is trying to play and everyone is supporting each other,” said Keyes. “We feed off each other’s energy, when one person gets hype it’s like a chain reaction. “
And that energy has not only revitalized the team, but energized a fan base that has been hungry to see winning basketball again at NCAT. Fans and students are more enthused to attend games. The Corbett Sports Center, where NCAT plays their home games, is now being deemed “Club Corbett. ” It has also become a significant home court advantage for a team that is battling to gain prominence in the MEAC again.
“The energized atmosphere of Club Corbett has made supporting the Basketball Team this semester such an exciting experience,” said Amina Bradley, a sophomore biology student from Long Island, New York. “Because everyone is so pumped up it makes you want to see the team do well.”
The Aggies have not won the MEAC tournament championship since 2013, which consequently was the last time the Aggies played in the NCAA tournament. The Aggies defeated the Liberty Flames 73-72 that season to earn their first and only tournament victory.
However, after being picked to finish dead last in the MEAC preseason rankings, the Aggies now have a legitimate chance to complete one of the best comeback stories in the nation by capturing a MEAC title and NCAA tournament berth.
“This could be one of the greatest turnarounds in college basketball history, “said Olujobi. “To go from one of the worst teams in college basketball to one of the bests … Words can’t even explain what that would mean.”