The Bob Jones University Bruins men’s basketball team competed well this season despite the loss of many key players.
Although the team was unable to finish as the champion of the national tournament, their season exemplified their hard work and determination to overcome difficulties.
Going into the 2018-2019 season, head coach Burton Uwarow expected to have 17 players. By the end of the fall semester, only nine remained due to injuries or school-related issues. “Once school started, they started dropping like flies,” Uwarow said.
Among the eight who were unable to play this season were point guards Nate Ellenwood and Chapman Harwood; both players went down with injuries.
Before the season started, Ellenwood injured his Achilles during a mission trip to Ireland. Just after the season started, Harwood tore his ACL while playing against Johnson University of Tennessee.
When injuries take out key players, the rest of the team must step up. According to Harwood, it was hard at first to rely on players who were young and inexperienced at the college level, but the team learned to rely on each other and grew as players and as men.
At the end of the fall semester, Chris Gray graduated, and Matt DeHart retired from the team due to student teaching and coaching at a local high school. DeHart, however, later returned from retirement upon Uwarow’s request. Four other students were unable to return to the university for various reasons such as transcript and monetary problems.
Because of this rapid decline in numbers, Uwarow used players he had not expected to use this season. Daniel Fuller and Jon Allen both began as practice players who did not expect to get much playing time.
Allen said he was not treated differently despite having come from the practice squad. “That’s what I loved about this team,” Allen said. “There wasn’t a guy that was like, ‘Oh, they’re practice players; we’re not going to talk to them.’”
Similarly, Stone Champion and Jamal Walton had planned on redshirting—training with the team but not playing in game. All four players found themselves playing for the team, Fuller and Allen becoming key players.
Uwarow recruited a few more players. Jaazaniah Cofer came from the student body to provide depth, and Cam McKennedy transferred from USC Upstate. The only returning players this spring were DeHart, Barnhart and Quiyante Borroughs, Barnhart being the only returning starter.
Despite the upset of the team’s roster, the men played well. According to Uwarow, once the team began playing at their level, they had the best season record in their conference, 7-1. “I’m really happy because they could have really self-destructed with all the adversity that they faced,” Uwarow said. “I was really proud of how they stuck together.”
In addition to the rearranging of the team, the Bruins lost their first seven games of the season. Instead of allowing those losses to get in their heads, the team continued to work hard. “They learned how to play together,” Uwarow said.
The Bruins played Johnson University of Tennessee again midway through the season and won 75-69. Johnson was the team against whom Harwood tore his ACL and the Bruins lost to 98-71 in early November.
Uwarow believes God allowed the team to go through this adversity for a reason. The team has grown together spiritually as well as on the court. “I don’t think that our team would be as spiritually strong as it is if they hadn’t gone through this,” Uwarow said.
Zac Orr, a forward, believes the team has grown in every aspect possible. “Statistically, we might not have had the best season, but as people, we had a great season,” Orr said.
Every Sunday night the team meets for prayer. At the beginning of the season, Uwarow had the men write down a list of people they wanted to invest in over the semester. Although Uwarow has not specifically checked with the men, he knows most are following through at some level.
Fuller knew that God had clearly opened the door for him to be on the team, to glorify God using a platform he knows well—basketball. “My main reason for being on the team was not even basketball related,” Fuller said.
Because of this season’s adversity, the men have grown and come closer together. “I think this group is going to lay the foundation for future success for the men’s basketball program,” Uwarow said.