Well-balanced Fairmont State seeks DII men's basketball title
SIOUX FALLS, S.D. - When Jerrod Calhoun arrived in Fairmont, W. Va., before the start of the 2012-13 season to coach Fairmont State, he spoke the words of many young, hungry college coaches who have a vision to help a program reach heights never seen before.
Calhoun talked about bringing a national championship to Fairmont State. It was an ambitious goal. After all, he inherited a team that was coming off an 8-19 season in the 2011-12 school year.
“We really believed it,” Calhoun said. “I think a lot of people laughed at us because they won eight games.”
In Calhoun’s first season, Fairmont State went 23-9 in 2012-13 and has won 20 or more games in each of his first five seasons.
From the outside, it looks like a classic rag to riches story for the Falcons, who will play for their first NCAA Division II national title at 3 p.m. ET Saturday at the Sanford Pentagon against Northwest Missouri State.
Calhoun knows a lot of hard work from a lot of people have made Saturday’s opportunity come to fruition.
“It is a group effort,” Calhoun said. “This is not a one-man show. This is not your Calhoun Show. It is about the players. This is about a community. To build something, you have to have people involved. This community got involved. We did it the right way. We upgraded our facilities. Our administration has been great.”
And finally, it takes players who believe in the process and believe in each other. The Falcons definitely showed their belief in each other in their quarterfinal win over Rollins and semifinal victory against Bellarmine.
In each game, Fairmont encountered foul trouble to key starters and each time somebody stepped up. In the 79-68 win against Bellarmine, junior D’Ondre Stockman came off the bench and went 8 for 10, including 5 for 6 from three-point range to finish with a game-high 23 points.
“D’Ondre, since he got here, has been a spark,” said senior Matt Bingaya, a first-team All-American selection. “He has been great for us.
“I have a group like this around me and people like D’Ondre, Jason, Jolly, Thomas, Wimbush all can score. We are not a one-man team.”
Squad has arrived!! pic.twitter.com/JPYArUyrEw— FSU Men's Basketball (@Fairmont_Hoops) March 20, 2017
It is striking that Calhoun and Bingaya both used, “not a one-man show, not a one-man team,” in their postgame comments after the win against Bellarmine.
The Falcons have gone through the wins and growing pains together to get to this point. They probably had thoughts of reaching the Elite Eight last season. Fairmont State entered the Mountain East Conference Tournament 25-3, but lost in the quarterfinals and then lost in the quarterfinals of the Atlantic Regional. Those are tough pills to swallow when you had a great regular season.
“It took some time. It took some growing pains,” Calhoun said. “The kids have done a great job of staying focused. They come from all parts of the country. We have a lot of fun. We joke around on the bus. It is a fun group to be around. But when we have to take care of business, we take care of business.”
Actually, the roster is composed of players mostly from West Virginia and Ohio. Stockman is from Maryland. He is in his first season with Fairmont State after transferring from Marymount, a NCAA Division III school.
“I never would have imagined coming from a DIII school, coming to a nationally ranked school and playing for a national championship,” Stockman said.
Yes, the Falcons are in position to make history in West Virginia.
“This is a chance to put this program in a different category,” Calhoun said. “Fairmont, West Virginia is on the map now. We are 40 minutes away from winning the first national championship in the state of West Virginia for any NCAA school, Division I or II. We are excited. We know the next game is going to be very difficult.
“It is a humbling experience, but you want to finish. This is a tough deal to win three games in four days. We play the depth we have, I feel very confident we can do it.”