Wednesday, March 8, 2006
MEDFORD – Just two years ago, the Tufts University men's basketball program was in disarray. Now they are in the NCAA Tournament "Sweet 16."
Tufts will play New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC) rival Amherst on Friday night (March 10) in the NCAA Division III Tournament Round of 16. The game represents Tufts' first-ever trip into the NCAA "Sweet 16." It's also a sign of how far the team has come in such a short period of time.
Talented Tufts teams in 2001-02 and 2002-03 underachieved due to a lack of cohesiveness. Unhappy with how the team was run, some players revolted against the coaching staff. Six quit or transferred between 2002 and 2004. The Jumbos bottomed out with an 8-17 finish in 2003-04, the worst record since 1970-71 when Tufts was 1-17.
With the program mired in a period of dysfunction that challenged everyone's commitment to the game, the players returning to the squad for the 2004-05 season decided to do something about it.
season in which we won only eight games will have a lasting effect on me for a
long time after my career at Tufts," said David Shepherd (Grantham,
NH/Proctor Academy), a freshman on that team who is now a junior
tri-captain. "It taught many of us that small differences can be the
determining factors between success and failure. After that season, we had a
number of team meetings and decided that as a team we would hold each other more
accountable. We rededicated ourselves to working hard both as a team and
individually in the off-season. The hard work combined with top-quality
leadership from last year's captains got the ball rolling and we are just
trying to keep moving forward."
a strong class of recruits and renewed leadership, the Jumbos enjoyed a
significant improvement on and off the court in 2004-05. They were 16-10 overall
and finished the regular season second in NESCAC. That momentum carried over to
this year, with the talented sophomore class joining the veteran leaders to
produce what head coach Bob Sheldon is calling the best team he's had
in 18 years at Tufts.
top to bottom, this is the best team as far as talent, chemistry and having a
common goal," said Sheldon, who is the Tufts all-time leader in coaching
victories with a 273-179 record.
23-6 overall entering Friday's game, this Jumbo team has the most wins in the
102-year history of Tufts Basketball. They surpassed the 1972-73 team's 22-4
record. The Jumbos won their NCAA first and second round games against Endicott
(83-60) and Cortland State (68-65) last weekend, respectively. This is their
third NCAA Tournament appearance, including 1995 and 1997.
members of this year's team – Shepherd, senior tri-captains Dan Martin
(Sandwich, MA/Phillips Andover) and Brian Fitzgerald (Bedford, NH/West
Manchester) and juniors Ross Trethewey (Dedham, MA/Dedham), Jason
Grauer (New York, NY/Birch Wathen Lennox) and Brian Kumf (Milford,
MA/Milford) are the remaining members of the 2003-04 squad who have been key
parts of the turn-around.
biggest strength of this team is that we have a nucleus of guys who really get
along and root for each other on and off the court," Fitzgerald said. "We
don't have egos and we are all in it together for the wins. We have a lot of
talent on the team, and a very solid work ethic. We have pretty much every type
of player you could want on a basketball team. We all have our own strengths and
we compliment each other well. We have a team full of competitors who love to
win and will do anything in their power to make that happen. We gut out close
games and we never feel that we are out of a game, and I really think that's a
result of us getting along so well."