Photo Credit: NAIA
In every play, the final act has the potential to be tragic. Not only does it finish off the play and tie off the loose ends, but it also adds the potential for a resolution to be dangerous or tragic. In the case of NAIA senior basketball players across the nation, their final act was ended prematurely and without notice.
With COVID-19, the new strand of coronavirus that has continued to lock down nations and cities across the country continuing to spread, the NAIA announced the cancellation of winter and spring sports.
Among the affected events was the NAIA Men’s Basketball Tournament, which was already underway across the nation. This decision left NAIA seniors with a premature ending and an untold story.
“Stolen from us” – Larenzo Moore
After defeating 24-seed Indiana Tech in the first round of the NAIA National Tournament, senior forward Larenzo Moore and the Holy Cross (Ind.) Saints were in the middle of preparation for their second-round game against Southern Oregon University when they found out of the news.
“The tournament had started March 11, we played at 8:30 a.m. to kickstart the tournament vs. [Indiana Tech]. We advanced and were preparing for [Southern Oregon],” explained Moore. “We’d just finished our film session on Southern Oregon. As we were getting dressed for our 12 p.m. practice, we heard the chatter. Immediately, players started breaking down.”
Although the team had seen other leagues canceling winter tournaments, the Saints expected the tournament to continue without fans, as some had expected the NBA to do before it suspended its season.
“We’d saw everything that was going on with the NCAA and NBA. We didn’t think they’d cancel the tournament being that it was already day two and everything was underway,” Moore said. “We just expected it to be only media, players, coaches, trainers, and immediate families.”
One of only two seniors on the Saints’ roster, Moore helped lead the Saints to a 27-9 regular-season record and the team’s first NAIA National Tournament appearance. Moore averaged 11.4 points, 10.6 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game, earning Moore a spot on the NAIA Division II All-American third team, He was the first in school history to earn that honor.
“It was heartbreaking to go out the way we did. We didn’t go out on our terms; that’s what sticks the most. All the hard work put into the gym; blood, sweat, and tears,” ,” said Moore when asked about his emotions when the decision was made. “It felt like we had our moment stolen from us. The worst part of it all, it was my last go-around at it with my teammates.
“All of the accolades I received this year, I’m honored to have received them, but without my teammates and coaching staff believing in me and everyone taking accountability for themselves, none of the success we had would’ve been possible,” Moore continued. “The group we had was special. You couldn’t find a more determined group of guys on the court and as close as we were off.”
Memories and The Future
“My growth and maturity from freshman year to senior year is the best memory I have. Taking a step back to see how far I came and where I am now as a player and a man,” Moore said. “I’ll always have the memories with my teammates from both schools I attended. Winning conference championships with both programs I played for is also a fond memory.”
With Moore’s college career likely over, Moore said his basketball future is currently at a “standstill” as he awaits a potential eligibility relief announcement from the NAIA.
“I’ll make my decision based upon what the NAIA does for the players whose season ended due to COVID-19 without actually losing in the postseason. If they reimburse us another year I will come back to college continue with unfinished business,” Moore said. “If not, it will suck for me for a moment due to the situation of ending my collegiate career due to the virus. And if they decide not to reimburse the seniors, I will start the process of looking for the right agent for me to pursue playing professional basketball.”
Darryl Bowie – KCAC’s Finest
Unlike Moore, Ottawa (Kan.) Braves guard Darryl Bowie didn’t think the NAIA National Tournament would be canceled.
“We had no idea the tournament was even in jeopardy,” Bowie said.
Bowie and the Braves had just finished their first-round game, an 87-84 victory over Concordia University (Neb.), when the players heard the news of the tournament being canceled from their head coach Aaron Siebenthall.
“I found out that they were canceling the tournament right after we won our first-round game,” said Bowie. “The team and I were celebrating in the locker room when Coach Siebenthall walked in and told us the bad news.”
In the mix of initial feelings and reactions, Bowie, who scored 19 points in Ottawa’s first-round victory, didn’t believe it was true.
“I could not believe it at first,” explained Bowie. “Once coach Siebenthall told us that the tournament would be canceled, I asked out loud ‘is this real?'”
Despite coming off the bench in all of Ottawa’s 33 games, Bowie took the KCAC and the NAIA by storm. Bowie led the Braves in scoring with 17.8 points per game on 46 percent shooting, while adding 2.3 assists per game. At the end of the season, Bowie was named the KCAC Player of the Year and a NAIA second-team All-American.
Bowie’s stats were a steady increase from his junior season, Bowie’s first season with Ottawa. In 22 games played, Bowie averaged 6.7 points per game on almost 47 percent shooting.
“Honestly, I am a team player first,” Bowie said about his statistical increase. “Last season, we had our seniors who were scorers and my job was to set them up and put them in the best position to score. Knowing that we were losing a lot of firepower offensively, I took it upon myself to work on tough shots and getting to my spots over the summer. I was willing to do whatever it took for my team to win.”
Memories and What’s Next
One of Bowie’s best games this season came against Bethany (Kan.), where Bowie scored 46 points — a school record. For Bowie, the game holds additional meaning for him, as it was one of the only games his mother got to watch of him while in Kansas.
“My most favorite memory was this year when I broke the school’s single-game scoring record with 46 points and I was able to physically hug my mom after the game,” Bowie said. “She was able to see two games in person since I had been playing at Ottawa… Anybody who knows me knows I’m a true momma’s boy.”
Darryl Bowie and his mother. (Photo Credit: Darryl Bowie)
Before attending Ottawa, Bowie attended Snead State Community College, where he played with his cousin and best friend.
“Playing with my cousin Jordan Millsap and my best friend, Terrell Guy, my freshman year at Snead State [was a top moment],” Bowie said. “The next year, my best friend Terrell Guy passed away. So, that’s been a big motivation for me to keep going on the basketball court.”
Although his college career is likely over, Bowie intends to continue playing basketball following college.
“This is just the beginning for my playing career,” said Bowie. “Personally, I know I have not reached my full potential. I will continue to play for myself, but also for the kids back home. Growing up, not knowing if they will get a chance to show their talents and play college or professional ball. They will read my story and know that anything is possible.”
Ashford Golden – Taking the NAIA by storm
Mid-American Christian University (Okla.) senior Ashford Golden had just found out the season was canceled the day after the NAIA National Championship brackets were released. It matched MACU up against Hope International (Calif.).
“I found out about the tournament being canceled the day after they released the bracket,” Golden said. “It was about two hours before practice and my coach called a meeting in the locker room.”
Despite the talk on social media about a potential cancellation, Golden had operated with the belief that the NAIA’s statement, which said that games would continue behind closed doors.
“I was mostly relying on the fact that they released a statement saying that the tournament would be played but without fans,” Golden explained. “I was sort of bummed about not having any fans, but at that point, it was the best-case scenario.”
Like many of the other seniors, Golden was heartbroken. He understood the situation and the decision, even if it may have ended his college career sooner than it was supposed to.
“I’m a firm believer that everything happens for a reason, even if we don’t understand it at the time. I know it was the best decision given the circumstances,” said Golden. “I still wish they would’ve postponed it instead of just canceling it altogether.”
Golden, who attended Central Oklahoma before transferring to Mid-American Christian, was a major part of MACU’s 30-2 season. In 32 games, Golden averaged 17.2 points on 46 percent shooting and 6.9 rebounds a game. At the end of the season, Golden was named to the NAIA All-American first team by the National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC).
— MACUAthletics (@MACUathletics) March 26, 2020
“My family played a big role [in my success] for sure. I have a 3-year-old son who I love to death that drives me every day,” Golden said about his motivations. “But I would have to give most of that credit to my teammates. Each one of us sacrificed so much to get where we were, each one of my teammates could average double what they averaged, but we all bought in. Which is why I feel we were in the perfect position to win the national championship.”
With sports currently at a standstill because of the coronavirus, Golden is keeping his options open for professional basketball.
“Everything is kind of at a standstill right now given the coronavirus pandemic that’s going on, but while everything gets back to normal, I will be exploring my options professionally,” Golden said. “Me and my agent are working to get the best deal that is possible for me.”