For senior Darius Glover, who carried the Florida A&M University basketball team in the Tuesday night game against Niagara University, the “Welcome Home ” ceremony deserved one phrase, “There’s no place like home.”
The men’s basketball team was greeted at the Tallahassee Regional Airport terminal at 5 p.m. Wednesday by a large group of cheering Rattler fans.
Cheerleaders, alumni and the world-famous Marching 100 met the men at the terminal entrance and brought a well-needed smile to the men’s faces.
“This is tremendous,” said the 6-foot-5-inch Glover, who led the team in Dayton, Ohio with 15 points.
The team’s season came to an end after its 77-69 loss to Niagara at the 2007 NCAA opening round game.
The men said they weren’t sure what was going on as they made their way toward baggage claim with their heads down and pride hurt after the disappointing loss.
“We expected some type of celebration after winning the MEAC title but never anything like this, and especially not now,” said senior Brian Greene, whose buzzer-beating shot against Delaware State University advanced the team to the NCAA tournament.
The fatigued basketball team, which has played four games in the last six days, said Niagara took advantage of the team’s weariness, but the experience alone was enough to keep the players wanting more.
Greene said the team appreciated the support.
“We made it home on Sunday and had to leave 6 o’clock Monday morning. We were tired,” Greene said. “I’m not making any excuses, but we could have used some rest.”
Athletic Director Nelson Townsend explained that the men have nothing to be ashamed of and that the “welcome back” was exactly the support the team needed.
“These men represented the University well and deserved this,” Townsend said.
Townsend also mentioned how gratified he was by the team’s sportsmanship, etiquette and behavior in Ohio.
“We have receive compliments everywhere we went in Dayton, and I’m very proud of our men. Win, lose or draw, it’s good to know that the University is producing great young men,” Townsend said.
The facial expression on head coach Mike Gillespie Sr. was priceless when he faced the cheering fans and the overwhelming horns and drums from the marching band, but he too agreed that some rest would have helped the team advance to the next round where it would have taken on the University of Kansas.
“If we were given a extra day rest, we would be on our way to Chicago right now,” Gillespie said. “But we were proud to represent the University and hope we did the University and Tallahassee well.”
The University atmosphere was somewhat quiet all day Wednesday because of Tuesday night’s 8-point defeat.
Sophomore economics student Derek Powlis of the Bronx, N.Y., said he watched the game attentively in his room with a few friends and was let down by the outcome and the team’s performance.
“It was false hope,” said the basketball fan, who was discussing Tuesday night’s letdown with a group of friends.
“I’m proud that we made it on national television but was not impressed with their sloppy performance,” Powlis said.
On the other hand, Nayendra Dabrelio, a biology pre-med student from Miami, said she was cheering for the team throughout the game and is happy the Rattlers made her freshman year one to remember.
“I watched the game in the Grand Ballroom,” she said. “I was hoping for them to get further than they got. But I’m glad we made it that far.
“MEAC champs my first year, not bad,” Dabrelio continued.
Center Rome Sanders, a 6-foot-8-inch senior, said the difficult match up with Niagara’s Clif Brown, who put up 32 points against the Rattlers’ defense, was a major part of the problem, in addition to the team’s exhaustion.
“Brown was more of a perimeter guy, and coming into the game, we didn’t think he was nowhere as big,” Sanders said.
Sanders also said that despite the team’s loss, the school’s welcome back made him feel more successful and reminded him he is still a winner.
“It was a pleasant surprise,” said the senior, who played his last game in his college career against Niagara.
“It just feels good to be home,” Sanders said.