It has been a long road for the University of South Carolina Salkehatchie’s first postseason experience in any sport.
The men’s basketball team climbed on a bus late Thursday in Walterboro and is scheduled to arrive Sunday in Hutchinson, Kansas for the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) Division I basketball tournament. The Indians play Northwest Florida State at 1 p.m. Monday in the opening round.
The trip measures almost 1,300 miles, but it also can be calculated in years. The school, founded in 1965, went almost two decades without a basketball program before re-establishing it in 2007.
“This is the first time in school history so that’s a great feeling. Everybody is excited,” said head coach Travis Garrett.
The Indians’ 15-17 record is a bit misleading. Garrett said USC Salkehatchie played the eighth toughest NJCAA schedule this season and the team finished third in Region X with an 8-4 record.
This year the NJCAA expanded its postseason tournament from 16 to 24 teams, with an extra spot for the Region X runner-up. USC Salkehatchie clinched its trip to Kansas with an overtime victory over Brunswick Community College in the semifinals.
The Indians lost to unbeaten Spartanburg Methodist (32-0) by three points in the championship game.
Garrett said the school decided to break up the lengthy trip to Hutchinson by driving all night to Memphis, Tenn. The Indians were scheduled to practice at a community college, eat some barbecue and then drive on to Little Rock, Ark., to practice and spend the night.
“The thing I’m impressed about my guys is that they’re all excited, but they’re still focused,” Garrett said. “We’ve had a great week of practice. We’ll go out there, have confidence in what we’re doing and see what happens.”
Montel Baines, a 6-6 forward from Raleigh, N.C., was first team all-region for USC Salkehatchie while Denzell Collins, a 6-2 guard from Savannah, and Fare’al Walker, a 6-4 guard from C.E. Murray High School in Greeleyville, both made second team all-region. Andrew Crawford, a 6-4 wing player from Mullins, and Cory Thomas, a 6-10 center from Atlanta, complete the starting lineup.