By: Mike Rose, Chamberlain Bauder, and Chandler Bland
The date March 12, 2020 will forever be remembered by college athletes across the country. Due to COVID-19, all winter and spring NCAA championships were cancelled that day. The Brockport men’s basketball team was just two days away from taking on Tufts University in the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA Division III men’s basketball tournament when the news came down. Head Coach Greg Dunne remembers that day well.
“Even though it was a long time ago now, I remember it vividly. Once I got over the ‘woe is me, why did this happen to us’ initial reaction, and you go ‘wait a second us this is happening to the world.’ So, you got to get over yourself a little bit. It was an unfortunate thing because I really thought we had the type of team that could’ve potentially won a national championship that year,” Dunne said.
The season would end with the Golden Eagles on a 19-game winning streak, tied for the longest in school history. The team finished with a record of 26-3 overall. Brockport not only lost an opportunity for a championship, but the entire following season was cancelled due to the pandemic. By the time basketball returned, very little remained from that powerhouse team of 2020. Now three years later, Brockport seniors Davonte Jones and Jahidi Wallace are the only players remaining from that season. Wallace was a sophomore who started all but one game for the 2019-20 team. Jones was a junior role player off the bench.
“We had each other’s back and we had a certain swag about us. When we got on the winning streak, we felt like we couldn’t lose,” Wallace said. Jones continued, “It was just the vibe was so good. It was good knowing these are my brothers, the vibe is good every single person, we love each other. It just made the ride even better; we just locked in and trusted each other,” Jones said.
Brockport had enjoyed a three-year run prior to the COVID season cancellation of three consecutive trips to the SUNYAC finals, as well as two trips to the NCAA Tournament. Since returning post-COVID, Brockport has yet to make an NCAA Tournament appearance.
“We had things really going there and then we had no season,” Dunne said. We were worried the culture we had built was going to take a hit and I think it did a little bit last year. This year I think we are back to where we were before. We have a great group of guys that it is fun to come into practice with and they’re really buying in to what we are trying to do.”
That “group of guys” has four stand outs at the top of the stats sheets this season. Mekhi Beckett, a 6’3 sophomore, leads the team in points and three-point shooting percentage. Beckett has truly emerged this season as a star, averaging 17 points per game. David Grady III is the senior center on the squad, leading the team in rebounds and blocks. Grady and Beckett are both great examples of Dunne’s philosophy of high pressure and elite rebounding.
Another emerging star for this team in 2022-23 has been Rochester native Tony Arnold. Bringing life to an area of the floor where Brockport was lacking, the backcourt, he leads the Golden Eagles in assists and steals on the season. Wallace is the last of the four stars on this team. Now this year he is the go-to guy in the closing minutes of a close game. Wallace understands that he needs to be a leader on this team.
“I try to lead by example, I’m not really vocal, it’s more body language and I just try to lift the younger kids heads up when they do something wrong to teach that next play mentality,” Wallace said.
Jones was away from the team last season but returned sensing something special about this year’s group.
“I chose to come back this second half of the season because I just see the potential that we have, and I want to be able to help contribute to that,” Jones said. “Just like that 2019 team I wanted to help contribute to that team too. I see and have that same feeling when we are locked in fully.”
This year’s team sits second in the SUNYAC conference with an 19-6 overall record. They have beaten every team in the conference at least once head-to-head already. For Brockport to return to the top once more and earn a berth in the NCAA Tournament they’ll have to find another gear.
“We haven’t played to our best potential yet,” Wallace said. Jones continued, “We’ve gotten close to our ceiling, but we haven’t broken through it how I know we can. We play our best basketball when our backs are against the wall, when we’re doubted and counted out.”
The Golden Eagles have certainly faced some doubt in their quest back to the top. The question remains whether they can play their best basketball when it matters most this time around.