JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (WDRB) — The Abilene Christian basketball players were scheduled to be available in their locker room for media questioning at 11:05 a.m. Wednesday. Team officials asked for a short delay.
They were not watching film of Kentucky, ACU’s opening-round NCAA Tournament opponent Thursday at 7:10 p.m. Coach Joe Golding was not sharing his scouting report.
The delay was tied to something more important than that:
The Abilene Christian players asked for extra time so they could take pictures and videos of themselves watching three of their teammates on a TV monitor answering questions in the interview room.
It’s a stretch to say that while Kentucky is here to begin a serious push for the program’s ninth NCAA title, Abilene Christian is here for the selfies, souvenirs and autographs.
But there is an element of truth in that assessment. I took pictures of the ACU players taking pictures of their teammates.
“It’s just a big moment for all of us,” said ACU guard Trey Lenox. “It’s something we dreamed about as little kids and never thought would happen. For us it’s just an honor to be on the same court with them and be in this moment.”
“On Selection Sunday, the top three names in my mind that I thought we were going to play were Kentucky, Michigan State and Tennessee,” said ACU forward Clay Gayman. “It turns out I guess I was right.”
“It will be an amazing experience because of all the pros they have on their team,” said Damien Daniels, a reserve guard.
In addition to being a 27-6 team from the Southland Conference that is a 22-point underdog, here is your Abilene Christian profile:
First NCAA Division I tournament.
Largest crowd played in front of this season: 7,169.
Total home attendance this season: 18,421 (roughly 3,200 less than Kentucky’s per game home average).
Players who had Southeastern Conference scholarship offer: Zero.
“One of my favorite teams growing up was that John Wall/DeMarcus Cousins Kentucky team (in 2010),” said ACU guard Payten Ricks. “I loved how fast they played. They were great.”
Although Ricks grew up a Kansas fan in Wichita, he said he would have taken a scholarship offer from John Calipari and the Wildcats.
But Kentucky did not offer. Neither did Kansas. Nor Wichita State.
“I had two D1 offers,” Ricks said. “Abilene and Coppin State.”
Ricks, for the record, is Abilene’s third leading scorer (11.7 per game) on the season but second leading scorer on the current roster because Golding dismissed two of this team’s top five scorers for violating team rules in February.
None of the four other Abilene Christian players that I questioned said they had scholarship offers from Power Five programs. Two said their only other offers were from Division II programs.
That included Lenox, who also has a Kentucky connection. Lenox grew up in Hot Springs, Ark. One of his AAU teammates was former Kentucky star and NBA lottery pick Malik Monk.
Kentucky and other top programs scouted Monk everywhere he played before his senior high school season.
Exposure was not an issue for Lenox but his best offer was Arkansas-Little Rock.
“Seeing the type of recognition and media attention that Malik got, I always kind of dreamed of it,” Lenox said. “But I never thought that it would come to this team.”
It came to this team because ACU won the Southland Conference Tournament after finishing two games behind Sam Houston State during the regular season.
Now they will come to Vystar Memorial Coliseum Thursday night wondering if they can do something that only eight of 136 teams seeded 15th in their regionals achieved: Beat a No. 2 seed.
“The last time it happened was 2016 — Middle Tennessee beat Michigan State,” Gayman said.
Correct. That ranked as one of the tournament's biggest Shock the World moments until UMBC, a 16-seed, upended Virginia, a No. 1 seed, a year ago.
“It’s opened doors for people to think they can win as the lower seed,” Daniels said. “We have talked about it.”
“That was the first thing I thought of when I saw the seeding,” Ricks said. “It reminds me that anything can happen. We have to have confidence that we can win a game.
“It’s definitely a dream come true, especially to be playing them. They’re the bluest of blue bloods.”
Expect more selfies on Thursday night.
Copyright 2019 WDRB Media. All rights reserved.