2006 Men's Basketball Team
With 24 seconds left on the clock, Bud Hamilton turned to his son, Bob, and said, “We’re going to do this!” With strains of “Give Us One Moment in Time” swirling through his head, Bud swelled with grateful joy as he watched his team of unusually talented, dedicated, and selfless players clinch the 2006 United States Collegiate Athletic Association II men’s basketball national championship.
The 2005-2006 Taylor Fort Wayne Falcons were a unique mix of five seniors, one sophomore, and four freshmen. Each player on the team knew his role and played it to virtual perfection. It didn’t matter who scored or made headlines—it was all about the team effort to win the game. Everyone was on the same mission from the first day of practice; no one signed on for personal glory. Whether from Canada, Texas, or back home in Indiana, players grew to love each other and bonded into a single unit, a true team where each player played a significant role. Here is a brief narrative of their marvelous journey over that year.
Most teams begin their preseason workouts with daydreams of a national championship, but this squad sensed they really had a legitimate shot at one. Kevin Woods, Isaac McClung, Rich Thomas, and Seneca Bratton were outstanding returners, and they had been joined by an established, game-changing post player, Virgil Akers, who had transferred in to play his final year with the Falcons.
The Falcons began their season with high expectations, only to be handed a big loss (104-70) in their first game against Trinity International University in a cross-town tournament at the University of Saint Francis. Their disappointment was tempered by their determination to get better, by the sense that they had done some good things, and by the fact that they were without their gifted point guard, Rich Thomas. The game also confirmed the value of Akers to the team—he had pulled down 12 rebounds, scored 21 points, and anchored the defense.
The next day the men regrouped and beat a good IU-Northwest team (85-79) as Kevin Woods scored 30 points and snatched 14 rebounds, freshman Andrew Johnson added 18 points, and Seneca Bratton tallied 12. This started a ten-game winning streak, where different players kept stepping forward with great performances.
The University of Cincinnati-Clermont College was an early major test, as they were a top-ranked USCAA II team and the game was at their gym. The contest featured the power play of Virgil Akers (19 pts.) and deadly shooting by Andrew Johnson (23 pts.); but, as he would so frequently, Kevin Woods led all scorers (25 pts.), and the Falcons soared to a 92-79 victory.
The Falcon made a huge statement in a home game against a Mid-Central Conference and NAIA II power Grace College of Winona Lake, Indiana, a team whose varsity Fort Wayne only been beaten twice by the 1964-65 Men's varsity basketball team, 78-74 at Winona Lake, and 95-89 at the old State School. This has been an off and on rivalry that stretched back some five decades. The Falcons fell behind, fought back, and fell behind again, that is, until Canadian freshman Jesse Boldt came off the bench to hit three straight 3-pointers, when the team took the lead for good. The defensive play of Isaac McClung and 32 points from Kevin Woods solidified the 90-81 triumph.
The Falcons then proved their mettle in two tough road games. Strong scoring by Woods (25), Akers (23), and McClung (22) lifted them over Ohio Christian University. Temple Baptist fell too as Akers scored 28 while pulling down 21 rebounds, while McClung added 25 points and Bratton grabbed another 11 rebounds.
The final game of the semester epitomized their balanced attack, as six players scored in double figures. Their record now stood at 14-2, with their only other loss coming on the road to Indiana Tech (85-81) in a heart-wrenching near miss. Although they were the number three ranked team in the country (USCAA II), the Falcons had yet to regain the services of their number one point guard.
The Falcons breathed a collective sigh of relief when Rich Thomas was finally able to rejoin them for the second semester, as did newcomer Brent Shaffner. In their first game, against Wright State University-Lake, the Falcons won 96-82 and again boasted six in double figures, led by Woods (21) and Akers (15). NCCAA II national champion Grace Bible College came into town next. Even though the taller Tigers out-rebounded the Falcons 42-25, five Falcons scored in double figures, and Thomas sealed the 98-85 win with 26.
A second game against Temple Baptist saw seven players hit double-digits, led again by Woods (24), as the Falcons climbed to a 108-86 win. The rapid scoring Redhawks of IU-Northwest were next, but their 98 fell short, as the Falcons flew away with 107. Fort Wayne was led by Akers (29 pts., 13 rebs.), McClung (23 pts.), and Thomas (20 pts.).
The Falcons made history on January 26 when they prevailed in a hotly contested game with NCAA III Manchester College, and their exciting 68-60 victory became the lead story on local television sports news.
A return match with Grace Bible on their home court presented another challenge. Akers (28), Woods (23), Thomas (19), and McClung (14) each contributed as the Falcons handed the Tigers a rare home loss, a Falcon win with a memorable, monstrous dunk by Akers. Wins piled up, and confidence grew.
A game at Wright State-Lake proved pivotal. After playing a terrible first half, and down 42-27, the Falcons listened to Coach Hamilton’s short half-time speech. “Gentlemen, you are a very good team, and you just played a horrible half. I am excited to see how you are going to come back to win this game!” Wright State scored again to open the second half, but it was all Falcons after that as they sped away with 60 second-half points. The Falcons were on the verge of something very special.
Arch-rival Moody Bible toppled twice. Then a bitterly fought re-match with the University of Cincinnati-Clermont ended with the Falcons prevailing, 81-79, with Woods (21) and freshman Johnson (20) coming up big.
As the season wound down, the Falcons went to Detroit to take on NAIA II and USCAA I power Marygrove College. There they stumbled for their third and final loss of the season, 67-64. After falling behind, the Falcons flew back with McClung (19), Woods (15), Akers (14), and Thomas (13) boosting them along; but they couldn’t quite catch the Mustangs and retake the lead.
After defeating NAIA II IU-East (Bratton had 11 pts.), the team celebrated senior night with a rematch against their formidable foe from Marygrove. The four seniors (Akers, Bratton, McClung, and Woods) sealed their legacy with a great win. Akers dominated with 28 points, 16 rebounds, and his trademark defense, joined by Woods (24 pts.), McClung (18 pts.), and Thomas (12 pts.). The focused Falcons claimed a decisive 98-79 victory.
The Falcons were by now eager to prove their real worth at the USCAA II National Tournament in Manchester, New Hampshire, hosted on the campus of New Hampshire Tech.
They first drew Vermont Tech, an opponent boasting two All-American players, one at center and the other at point guard. Tight defense from McClung, Thomas, and Woods led to a 40-34 half-time lead for the Falcons. The Knights made a second half run, but the Falcons’ balanced scoring and continued defensive pressure proved to be too much for them. An “alley ’oop” pass from McClung to Woods for a dunk punctuated an 89-73 first round victory.
Game two saw a taller team from Williamson Free School fall to the Falcons. Akers (25 pts.) was joined in scoring by two freshmen, John Yoder and Jesse Boldt (9 each). Although their size advantage helped Williamson players out-rebound the Falcons, the Mechanics could not stop the inside play of Akers or Seneca Bratton. The Falcons won, 88-67.
The championship game capped an amazing year. The Falcons would have to defeat an old foe and perennial power, the University of Cincinnati-Clermont College Cougars, for a third time in one season, a difficult task in the best of circumstances. Nevertheless, the Falcons prevailed yet again (74-68) in a back-and-forth tug-of-war. Once more they relied on their tried and true formula: balanced scoring, scrappy rebounding, and tenacious defense–a total team effort.
|Virgil Akers||USCAA II National Player of the Week
USCAA II All-American Team
USCAA II Most Valuable Defensive Player
|Isaac McClung||USCAA II National Player of the Week
USCAA II All-Tournament Team
|Rich Thomas||USCAA II National Player of the Week
USCAA II All-Tournament Team
|Coach “Bud” Hamilton||USCAA II National Coach of the Year|
As Coach Bud Hamilton watched his players step forward to receive their championship medals, he reflected on the each team member’s crucial contributions. Adam Zimmerman played few minutes in games, but contributed when he was in. Kevin Woods, Rich Thomas, Seneca Bratton, and Isaac McClung had hung on through hard years, allowing difficult experiences to make them better. Two gifted freshmen, Jesse Boldt and John Yoder, knew their roles and complemented their teammates. Senior newcomer Virgil Akers was the key enforcer in the paint who had reminded their mentor all year long, “Coach, we’ve got your back! Sit back and enjoy the ride!”
Coach Hamilton would later muse, “To say I love these guys sounds too trite. They are a major part of my life. They culminated thirty years of coaching, and I will remember them forever, this very special group of young men, the 2005-2006 USCAA II National Champions.”
A sterling season entails far more than can be summed up by individual honors, but there were plenty of awards to go around for this fine team, even apart from their campus record 30-3 mark against superb competition.
Two other people never received recognition, but played invaluable roles. Bob Hamilton, Bud’s son, had traveled with the team and kept statistics all year. It had been Bud’s incredible privilege to share a lifelong dream with his son, who was with him on the bench through the entire journey. What more could a father want? The second was Bud’s special assistant, Manager Carl Nuffer, who sat next to him each game of the year, and whose joy and celebration at the national tournament were more than worth everything Bud had invested in that fine young man’s life.
In just a few short years former players have proved themselves to be champions off the court as well, becoming teachers, coaches, church workers, homeless center helpers, and Boys and Girls Clubs volunteers. Their attitude of selfless service became evident during that magical run to the national championship. Here is just one story from that special season.
Rich Thomas was not able to play the first semester. Freshman John Yoder took over at point guard and guided the team to a 14-2 record, playing with poise beyond his years. “Yogi” was a major player; but, when Rich returned, “Yogi’s” time would diminish dramatically, from up to the full forty minutes to somewhere between five and fifteen minutes a game. Coach Hamilton gently warned “Yogi” about what would happen to his court time, but “Yogi” never flinched.
“Coach, I am here to help this team any way I can. You’re the Coach, and I will give it all I can, whatever my playing time.”
John Yoder’s response embodied the 2005-2006 Falcons: play as a unit, play for each other, and remain committed to the team. By God’s grace, the 2005-2006 men’s basketball squad became a team for the ages, one that brought the Fort Wayne campus “One Moment in Time.”