By Zach Berman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 19, 2009
GREENSBORO, N.C., March 18 -- The names spilled out of Binghamton Coach Kevin Broadus's mouth, all of coaches back in Washington, Broadus's home town and his self-described "basketball mecca." Broadus's road to running a college basketball program ran almost exclusively through the District.
He went from Bowie State to the University of the District of Columbia to American to George Washington to Georgetown. He spoke of the coaches he has worked under, from Wil Jones at UDC to Jeff Jones at American. From Karl Hobbs at George Washington to John Thompson III at Georgetown. And then there's "Big Coach," former Georgetown coach John Thompson Jr., whom Broadus repeatedly mentioned when discussing his influences.
Broadus said these coaches helped prepare him for the stage he will take Thursday night, when 15th-seeded Binghamton tries to play Cinderella against second-seeded Duke in the East Region of the NCAA tournament.
As Broadus stood at midcourt during his team's practice on Wednesday evening, the Duke assistant coaches looked on. Broadus barked at his players: "C'mon guys, focus! Focus!" It is an instruction that comes with added meaning.
Broadus was asked at a news conference about the negative attention that has come his team's way. He insisted that his players must shield themselves from the stories, and that regardless of what is said or written, the Bearcats remain America East Conference champions.
Minutes later, in a small room tucked off a corridor of Greensboro Coliseum, Broadus recalled what "Big John" told Broadus last season, Broadus's first at Binghamton, when the program was 1-7.
"Stay the course. Trust the course. Don't forget what you're doing," Thompson told Broadus. "Put the blinders on. Don't listen to the outside folks. They want you to listen. They want to bring you down."
The Bearcats came under scrutiny after a Feb. 21 article in the New York Times reported academic and behavioral issues with players on Binghamton's roster.
"Closed issue," said Broadus, who stood by his recruiting, his players and his program.
Binghamton gained additional attention after standout guard D.J. Rivera did not win America East player of the year nor earn a spot on the all-conference team despite leading the America East with 20.2 points per game. Rivera transferred to Binghamton from Saint Joseph's, where he was academically ineligible, and was able to play immediately because the NCAA granted a hardship waiver.
No Binghamton player was voted for the all-conference team, although America East Commissioner Patrick Nero said Wednesday that a majority of conference coaches voted for Bearcats players and those who did not were protesting the NCAA granting hardship waivers instead of forcing transfers to sit out one season -- and not protesting against Binghamton's program.
"I got something that none of those guys got with any of those awards," Rivera said. "An America East regular season championship, an America East championship, and now we're in the NCAA tournament. I got the most important awards."
Rivera is an example of the type of player Broadus has used to turn the program into an NCAA tournament team in two seasons. Every major Bearcats contributor came to the school under Broadus's watch -- a handful of whom were transfers from other programs or junior colleges -- though Broadus refused to call them short-term fixes.
"You can't let the outside world dictate who you take," Broadus said. "I would take all high school guys, all junior college guys, all one-year guys. You got to take who is willing to come to you. Let me make this clear -- Binghamton is not an easy sell. A lot of people never heard of Binghamton until this year -- good, bad, or indifferent -- around the country. Now we're a national program. People know who Binghamton is."
An upset win on Thursday night would further thrust the Bearcats into the national spotlight -- and Broadus acknowledged that will include the negative, too. But he deals with it by leaning on what he learned from those Washington mentors, starting on the courts at Dunbar High School and continuing through his days at Georgetown -- where he was once part of a team that upset Duke.
"D.C. has been great to me," Broadus said. "It's home, born and raised there. I've crossed a lot of paths, talked to a lot of people. Those names have guided me, given me a little bit about basketball along the way."