Jaguars defy odds with remarkable run

  • Follow GRU

Conventional wisdom is apparently not on the curriculum at Augusta State University.

At least it's not when it comes to the men's basketball program.

When dynamic leader A.J. Bowman graduated after an NCAA championship game loss in 2008, it seemed as if a once-in-a-lifetime title chance might have slipped from the Jaguars' grasp.

Then when mammoth center Garret Siler departed after a national semifinal loss in 2009, the door closed again on Augusta State's title hopes.

So naturally, the Jaguars are back in the Elite Eight for the third consecutive year for what again seems like a final opportunity to bring a trophy back to Augusta. Without two of its linchpin pieces that made that 2008 team so special, the Jaguars are somehow better than ever.

Is anybody else confused?

Certainly not Vince Alexander, the head coach at rival USC Aiken who has had to deal with every variation of the Jaguar basketball menace the past three seasons. From his perspective, this Augusta State team might have a better chance than the previous two of bringing home a Division II title.

"They play as good together as any team I've seen them have there," Alexander said of Augusta State's 2010 edition.

The common thread in all three of these Elite Eight teams is senior shooting guard Ben Madgen, the all-time leading scorer in Augusta State and Peach Belt Conference history.

"Madgen is just the glue," Alexander said of the 25-year-old Australian who has haunted his Pacers for four seasons. "He's a very, very, very good player. I mean, night in and night out he's going to get 18 to 25 points and it's tough to stop him."

Is it possible that Madgen's status was getting overshadowed by the outsized skills of Bowman and Siler on those recent teams?

"Not so much underestimating his influence as much as the fact that they did have other players," Alexander said. "But if you look at the one constant, it is him. He's an All-American."

Now it's Madgen who is the centerpiece of a balanced roster that has lost fewer games (three) than any other in school history.

His supporting cast is as experienced as he is.

Fred Brathwaite picked up where he left off after averaging 18 points in the Elite Eight last year, providing the kind of slashing offensive and defensive presence that Bowman once offered.

"Brathwaite has stepped up, and it's unfortunate that he's overshadowed by Madgen," Alexander said.

"But he's a key component to their success as well."

Daniel Dixon has been Madgen's teammate for four years, upgrading from a sixth-man spark to a double-digit scoring starter at the point this season.

Greg Hire, another Australian, improved as a complementary defensive and rebounding force.

The lone newcomer to the mix -- William & Mary transfer Alex Smith -- provided the last essential ingredient to fill any holes left by Siler's loss. Though not as big, Smith is craftily able to draw fouls and be a presence in the post, without getting into the kind of trouble Siler frequently did, while providing consistent scoring and rebounding.

"Their first five players are outstanding," Alexander said. "I think teams better watch out because they're very good at every position. They are so balanced and so good, this certainly can be their year."

It better be -- at least that's what the conventional wisdom is saying. With all five of those balanced starters as seniors, coach Dip Metress will have to start almost from scratch next season to build the Jaguars back into the force they've been for three years. The glue and all his cohesive pieces will be gone.

USC Aiken's coach, however, has no doubts about the future of elite basketball in these parts.

"We've been blessed to have some outstanding young men come through," Alexander said. "I think you'll continue to see good basketball in this area for quite some time."

For now, it's only the next three games that matter. If the Jags take care of business tonight against Bentley, they could get the chance at revenge matchups against Cal Poly-Pomona, which eliminated them in the semifinals last season, and Valdosta State, which beat them in January after Augusta State had climbed to No. 1 in the nation.

Their regional rival would like to see the Jaguars finish the job this year.

"They are very, very capable of winning it all," Alexander said.

At this stage -- again -- it would be unconventional to think otherwise.

loading...
Search Augusta jobs