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Posted 26 Mar 2001   For week ended March 09, 2001
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Sent on Mormon-News: 08Mar01

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 begun.


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: Senior Writer


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