Change. That word sums up the Bruins intercollegiate basketball program for the 2019-2020 season.
Both the men’s and women’s basketball teams are in a period of transition as they change from NCCAA to NCAA DIII regulations. This year they are abiding by many NCAA DIII rules but will not officially be in the NCAA. However, both the men’s and women’s teams are competing in several DIII tournaments to prepare them for the complete transition next year.
Women’s head coach Mike LeViere pointed out that the teams started practicing about two weeks later than usual because they are now following the DIII practice schedule, despite still playing NCCAA teams as well as NCAA DI teams who start earlier. “My supposition is that it’s going to be a slower start,” LeViere said. “We are also still playing in the NCCAA and some NCAA DI teams, and they’ve all been practicing forever. We’re behind all of them.”
Jessiann Wiedmann, a sophomore guard for the women’s team, is looking forward to the change, even though she anticipates that it will take the team a while to adjust. “DIII is a step up for us,” she said. “But I think it is a good move for the program.”
Wiedmann is excited for a new season to compete. “I am so pumped!” she said. “I feel a lot more confident in what I can contribute to the team this year to help make my teammates better.”
Burt Uwarow, the men’s head coach, used his team’s history of beating NCCAA DI and DII schools as motivation for the team to do well against NCAA DIII competition. “We beat USC Upstate a few years ago,” Uwarow said. “We have beaten DII Erskine and Southern Wesleyan in the past years. However, we have never beaten a DIII school.”
Uwarow also hopes the games against NCAA teams will prepare his team for the NCCAA regional championship. “Our first semester is always tough,” Uwarow said. “Our entire first semester schedule is comprised of DI, DII and DIII programs.”
In addition to the transition from NCCAA to NCAA, both teams are welcoming several new players to their teams. The women’s team has four incoming freshmen and one sophomore, while the men’s team has nine freshmen and one incoming transfer. “We have a large freshman class,” Uwarow said. “They will have the opportunity to contribute immediately.”
The men’s team also has two players returning from injuries that prematurely ended their seasons last year—Nate Ellenwood with a torn Achilles and Chapman Harwood with a torn ACL. Harwood, a senior guard, tore his ACL in the past two seasons and is looking forward to finally returning to the court.
Harwood’s injuries have stretched him in the past two years. “Honestly, going through one ACL injury is the best thing that could have happened to me,” Harwood said. “I learned that Jesus is my identity in everything I do. I am not Chapman Harwood, the basketball player. I am Chapman Harwood, the Christian who happens to play basketball.”
Going into this transitional season, both teams are focusing on basketball as a platform for ministry. Daniel Fuller, a sophomore forward, is the outreach leader for the men’s team. They have already held a basketball ministry at Faith Baptist Church in Easley. Each week the players also take turns driving and delivering food for Meals on Wheels in Greer.
Uwarow’s philosophy for the team is, “Do what you can with what you have, where you are.”
The team has devotions every day before practice, and each Sunday night, they meet in a classroom for a voluntary prayer meeting. Uwarow said, “In the busy schedule of college life, we have found a way to be likeminded through studying God’s Word together and by praying for each other as a student body.”
LeViere said he pushes his team to compete hard, but that ultimate success is not measured by wins or losses. “We want to win but in a way that doesn’t point to ourselves,” LeViere said. “I tell my team all the time that I want the other team to walk away saying that we’re the nicest team they’ve ever lost to.”