Ken Wagner isn’t feeling like a kid in a candy store. Nope, he’s feeling like he owns the store.
For the self-described basketball junkie, there is no better place than Springfield, Mass., birthplace of the sport. And making it even better for the Brigham Young-Hawaii coach is that he’ll be on the court with his team at the NCAA Division II Elite Eight instead of being in the seats.
“It is pretty exciting to be here,” Wagner said as the 20-8 Seasiders prepare for today’s quarterfinal game with Bloomfield of New Jersey (24-8). “It’s a lot better coaching than it is watching.
“We had hoped to be here before this season … but when you get to this point of the year, you have to be good and you have to be lucky. It’s not that easy to get here.”
NCAA DIVISION II ELITE EIGHT
At Springfield, Mass.
After being one game away from playing in the Elite Eight the past three years, BYUH finally broke through last week by downing PacWest rival Dixie State in the regional final in Ellensburgh, Wash. The Seasiders flew back to Hawaii briefly; they were back on a plane last Thursday.
“We were told we had to leave then or they couldn’t get us here until the 23rd,” Wagner said of an itinerary that would have had the team arriving on game day. “Obviously, we left last week.”
There’s been plenty of time to acclimate, including getting used to the snow.
“There are snowball fights every time we leave the gym,” Wagner said. “I think our guys are really focused. We played well in the regional. Early in the year, we had people who weren’t as patient as we would have liked, but we’re playing well together now.”
Today’s meeting with Bloomfield at the MassMutual Center pits two seven seeds who got hot at the right time, the Seasiders winning the West regional and the Deacons the East.
Bloomfield, winning its past nine, features senior guard Gage Daye, the school’s all-time leading scorer. The Deacons are the first from the Central Atlantic Collegiate Conference to make it to the Elite Eight.
The 6-foot-2 Gage, who earned regional Most Outstanding Player honors, will see his regional MOP counterpart — Seasiders senior guard Marques Whippy. Whippy, born and raised in Fiji, was also the PacWest’s player of the year.
“I don’t think anyone believed we would come this far,” Whippy told NCAA.com. “We knew we had the talent and ability to make it here, and after coming up short before, we really wanted to get the job done this time.”
Part of this week’s festivities included Monday night’s team banquet at the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
“It’s quite the experience,” said Wagner, who has attended previous banquets. “But it’s pretty neat to have your team with you.”