By Kent Larsen
Team of Mormons Called NCAA Tourney's Underdogs
FT WAYNE, INDIANA -- The coach is LDS. Seven players served LDS missions and
CBS Sportsline's Mark Alesia says they are the underdogs of the coming NCAA
tournament; the team least likely to win it all, but that has the Cinderella
hopes of its fans and many across the US. The Southern Utah University
Thunderbirds beat favored Valparaiso last night 63-59, earning their first
Mid-Continent Conference Tournament and a berth in the NCAA Tournament. For
them, March Madness has begun.
Cedar City, Utah's 25,000 people aren't used to this level of publicity,
says the coach, Bill Evans. "It's a small conservative town. There's no
mall. There are 25,000 people, 6,000 in school -- predominantly LDS
(Mormon)." Alesia, who followed the team for 24 hours before its win last
night, says that the NCAA tournament needs teams like this, "If [the NCAA
Tournament] were only media savvy coaches and pampered players and "power"
conferences, it wouldn't be March Mayhem. It would be the NBA playoffs."
Alesai characterizes Evans as a "nice guy" coach who made peanuts working
his way up. Evans has only had two technical fouls in his life. Evans agrees
"I'm probably not a very good recruiter," he says. "because I'm too damn
honest with them. I recruit toughness and character -- two things you have
to have to endure."
He also ends up with age. Because the University recruits mainly from Mormon
communities, the youngest starter is 22 -- the same age as the oldest on
many teams. In addition to the returned missionaries on the team, six team
members are married, and several have children.
The celebration after last night's game reflected the team. An extended
'team' of about 30 attended the game, and the players were scattered through
that group. They cut down the net, did interviews and took pictures. Parker
Chandler, who will turn one year old today, the son of junior forward B. J.
Chandler, was paraded around the arena by his father. Guard Justin Sant
joked "They're looting and setting fires in Cedar City!" and guard Stan
Johnson replied, "I just know someone turned my car over."
Having reached the goal of a spot in the NCAA tournament, the Thunderbirds
are now setting their sights a little higher. For them, March Madness has
Southern Utah ends Valpo's 17-game conference win streak
CBS Sportsline 6Mar01 S2
Thunderbirds reach for their dream
CBS Sportsline 6Mar01 S2
By Mark Alesia: SportsLine.com Senior Writer