BY CORY WOODROOF
I’ll be honest; I’m still trying to process that Lipscomb University played the Texas Longhorns in a major basketball championship in primetime on ESPN, the biggest sports channel on planet Earth.
For two hours or so, it was, indeed, the Lipscomb Bisons, going head-to-head with a powerhouse program live for all to see. They’ve been the toast of the National Invitational Tournament, and have been on the minds and fingertips of sports writers and fans across the country.
A friend in Brooklyn mentioned to me on Twitter that he had caught a little bit of the Lipscomb/Wichita State game, and that was the only college basketball action he’d seen all year.
If you had told me in college that, one day, the Lipscomb Bisons would be in this position, I’d have been thunderstruck in the best possible way. I still am now, truth be told.
Indeed, the Lipscomb Bisons men’s basketball team, a year off of their first NCAA tournament appearance, stormed the NIT and nearly reached its peak. Each game felt like an ESPN Instant Classic; those with the gift of gab and penmanship salivating over the any number of stories you could tell from how those Bisons just always find a way to win.
I’ve been a part of the Lipscomb community since I was five years old. I’m what you call a “Lipscomb Lifer,” I now teach college classes at the same grander institution I learned my multiplication tables.
From kindergarten to undergrad to a first job and a first classroom to teach in, I’ve made a home over at Lipscomb, and it’s a place I take great pride in. I’m *certainly* not the only one who can claim this, too. It’s a testament to the heart of what Lipscomb is as a community, and how special it can be. Some of us are just happy being here for the long haul.
Not that I’m the spokesperson for the grander Bisons nation, but that sense of pride we all felt for sporting the “L” in public this week while the Bisons were on their run is directly owed to ones on the screen.
Having spent the better part of nine months surrounded by the wide world of Williamson County sports, you also sense the pride folks in the area have for the locals who have become Lipscomb legends down the way.
Garrison Mathews, who Franklin High fans always knew was destined for a moment like this, is going to have his jersey retired in Allen Arena, and for due reason.
I covered Lipscomb basketball for about three seasons as an undergrad, and watched teams with plenty of folks to write about and root for. But there’s not been a story like Mathews to come out of the campus since the mid-aughts.
Mathews is, by far, the best player I’ve seen in a Lipscomb uniform since Deonte Alexander, and the best to take the court for the Bisons since the days of Josh Slater and Adnan Hodžić. He’s represented WillCo basketball in a way that exemplifies the type of talent the county sends out to the upper ranks, and has given Lipscomb a player that college hoops fans will remember.
Lipscomb putting a player on the AP All-American honorable mention list is unheard of; it’s more than special. It might be a once-in-a-generation honor for a once-in-a-generation Bison.
He didn’t inspire an entire hashtag for nothing. Gary went to the Garden and will return a hero. All of the Lipscomb, Franklin and Williamson County community ought to hail him for what he’s done.
I remember when Casey Alexander, who took Brentwood Academy to two state titles as a high school phenom and played college ball at Belmont, first landed at Lipscomb from Stetson as the face of an uncertain Bisons future.
His 2013 team had a fight in them you could notice immediately, even if it didn’t always reflect on the scoreboard. It’s the same fight you saw on television over the last few weeks. To be able to come back from so many deficits and become such road warriors in hostile post-season environments embodies what he’s established as a coach.
The wins finally caught up to his program, as did the success, the tourney berth, the ranked-team wins, the AP poll votes and the NIT run. He’s another from the county who’s gone down the road to do amazing things for the community. He’s another that deserves a hero’s welcome.
The same can be said for Franklin Road Academy alums Rob Marberry and Kenny Cooper, and Battle Ground Academy alum Nathan Moran.
Fittingly, Marberry, Cooper and Moran all had career-defining moments in that NIT run, and bring the Panthers and Wildcats communities alike great pride.
All of middle Tennessee rallied behind the Bisons in the big run, and you can sense the admiration in the air folks have for the returning Lipscomb team. They honored all of us, and the institutions and communities we care about, on the biggest of stages in the Big Apple. What more can you say but thanks, and we’re so proud of you?
I’m a proud alum always, but especially this week. I’m a thankful alum always, but especially this week.
I know I’m very much not alone on that. You can tell what everyone else around the Lipscomb and Williamson County area is thinking right now.
Thanks a million, Lipscomb Bisons. We’re proud of you.
Photo courtesy of Lipscomb Athletics.