Conference title brings team, school together
Students and fans gathered outside of the Athletic Center Saturday night to welcome home the 2010 Conference USA Tournament Champions.
The men’s basketball team won the tournament hours earlier, defeating then-No. 25 UTEP in conference play to earn a spot in the Big Dance. This is the Cougars first NCAA tournament berth since 1992.
For Head coach Tom Penders, it has been twelve years since he took George Washington University to a conference championship.
Although Penders has led four teams to the NCAA Tournament, he said that this ranks as one of the most important.
“I spent 17 years in my coaching career without a tournament and this is right there with it I feel just as emotional,” he said. “I feel it’s so special. The rest in between, I feel very fortunate that it happened but nothing compares to this or my first one.”
The Cougars did not let their No. 7 seed in the Conference USA Tournament dissuade them from moving forward from tough losses as a team.
“I feel that the team really bonded in the last couple weeks of the season. We had a couple of losses but the team never got down or pointed fingers and they would not be denied. I felt very definitely that we could win it and we did,” Penders said.
Penders also said the team is not only great for the school, but it will also bring the team together and told players that this will help them remain friends after they move on from the University.
“I told these players …for the rest of their lives they will always be friends,” he said. “When we win a championship my best friends in life are my teammates from UCONN when we won two championships and I feel so happy today it gives them the reason to come back every year and have reunions.”
The team was greeted by plenty of friends Saturday night as they exited the bus with the trophy in hand. Students gathered around the team to help share the memory.
“We’re so proud it’s been 18 years. I’m so happy to be a student and be here to witness it,” Dominique Richards said.
Richards noticed the bond forming between players that helped the team win as she followed the tournament on television unable to drive to Tulsa, Oklahoma.
“We’ve got a great team, and they all help each other out,” she said. “When one person is slacking, another person helps out.
“That’s what it’s all about.”