For a change, UDC Coach Wil Jones was at a loss for words.
In an emotional, tear-filled thank-you speech, Jones spoke of the tremendous achievements of his basketball team to a small gathering yesterday at the Woodner Hotel in Northwest Washington. It included University of the District of Columbia faculty members, parents and close associates of the team at a private brunch for the squad.
"We didn't win the national title this year but I truly believe these young men gained respect throughout the nation," Jones said. "We really wanted to win this one bad, for the seniors and for the city. The fellow who wrote 'Winning Isn't Everything' was smart enough to remain an anonymous person. He wouldn't put his name to that statement. I'm a winner and these kids are winners."
Jones' comments came shortly after defending champion UDC returned from Springfield, Mass., where it lost to Wright State of Ohio, 92-73, in the NCAA Division II final Saturday night. The players, outfitted in white tuxedos, were met by a small group of fans at National Airport and taken to the brunch sponsored by the school.
"What this team has done for UDC in terms of public relations couldn't be purchased for $50 million," said UDC President Benjamin Alexander, who attended the championship game and the brunch. "People all over have called to offer congratulations. This team is proving they can excel in the two A's--academics and athletics. They richly deserve any honors they receive."
The brunch was the beginning of a week of festivities for the Firebirds, who ended the season 29-3. A parade and an honors assembly with Mayor Marion Barry and the D.C. City Council is scheduled for Tuesday afternoon at the District Building, and a dinner that evening.
Both senior Michael Britt, who will play in several collegiate all-star games next month, and junior Earl Jones were selected Division II players of the year by different organizations. Jones skipped the brunch because of a scratched left cornea and torn tissue in his eyelid incurred in the game Saturday night.
Jones, who played despite blurred vision and scored 26 points, said his injury wasn't serious. Jones said he definitely plans to return for his senior season.
"I'd like to play in the Olympics if possible," Jones said. "Either way, I plan to come back next year . . . Had we not played bad for those few minutes, we could have won another championship."
Though disappointed with second place, Wil Jones said the players were overachievers if anything.
"These kids did it together and did it genuinely," said Jones, 86-23 for four seasons. "Sometimes you don't always accomplish what you set out to do. This one will hurt a while but we developed something here we couldn't lose.
"We finally have our first true alumni basketball members. Britt, Kenny Payne, Greg Carson and Hawkeye Daniels were the backbone of this program for four years. They'll always be part of the program. They're finished playing and now they'll help me recruit."