MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - Athletes of all levels are still in disbelief their season is over, but for the Faulkner men’s basketball team it hits especially hard.
“I was watching film at about 7 o’clock for about two or three hours, and at about 10 o’clock, I just decided I’m going to bed,” said head coach Scott Sanderson. “For whatever reason, I felt at that time we won’t be playing.”
It all happened literally overnight. On Wednesday, the Eagles gathered at coach’s house to watch the NAIA National Tournament Selection show. They applauded as they were named a 2-seed in the Naismith bracket.
The next morning, the team awoke to chaos.
News of countless conference tournaments across the country being canceled due to the threat of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, led to the inevitable:
No March Madness in 2020. The NCAA announced the men and women’s basketball tournaments had been scrapped, and the NAIA soon followed suit.
“It’s incredible with what has happened with the sporting world,” said President Donald Trump in a national address on Thursday. “So many of the great sports we’ve gotten so used to at this time of the year won’t be meeting.”
"Even when I walked into the office today, it just didn't seem real," said Sanderson. "You're still just trying to process what's just happened."
Faulkner was en route to potentially their second-best finish in program history, nearly matching the 2007 season in which it advanced to the Final Four of the National Tournament. The team finished 24-11 that year, after falling to Oklahoma City University 76-61.
This year’s Eagles ended the season 27-4, battling through an 18-game winning streak lasting three months, before suffering their first loss in that span in the semifinals of the Southern States Athletic Conference Tournament.
However, prior to that loss, the did capture the SSAC Regular Season Title, finishing conference play 17-1, and they were on their way to what could have been their first national title since 2001.
“I mean sometimes, you’re just happy to go to the National Tournament, and then sometimes you feel like you have a team that is worth enough to win a National Championship,” said Sanderson. “For the last month, we’ve talked about that, and that’s how we’ve kinda approached it all year. I’m very proud of our players.”
The team gathered for a final time on Thursday, and players were visibly upset, but none more emotional than the Class of 2020, whose final year donning the blue and white was cut short in the most unexpected way.
“I just feel bad for the seniors,” said Sanderson. “We have six seniors on our basketball team, we’ve had a phenomenal season, won a conference championship. I’ll have the opportunity again, and some of these guys will, but, those six seniors will never get that opportunity ever again.”
Those six seniors included Serbian native Milan Skundric, who earned the 2020 SSAC Co-Player of the Year award. He ends his career at Faulkner averaging nearly 15 points a game. He shot 55 percent from the field, and finished 10th in NAIA Division I total blocks and 12th in blocks per game.