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North Carolina Wesleyan University's NCAA Tournament appearance

NCWU men's basketball team after winning the USA South tournament.
Carl Lewis
NCWU men's basketball team after winning the USA South tournament.

The Battling Bishops reminisce on the championship-winning season that led them to play in the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2011.

North Carolina Wesleyan University's men's basketball team headed to the big dance, the NCAA Division III tournament, for the first time since 2011 on Friday, March 3, 2023.

The Battling Bishops lost to The University of Scranton's Royals in the NCAA tournament's first round, in a game that came down to a blocked shot at the buzzer — final score of 65-64. Even with the loss, the team has had a phenomenal overall season.

With a season record of 23-4and only one loss in the conference to their rival, the William Peace University Pacers, the team cemented their spot in the NCAA tournament for their sixth appearance in school history. They did so after defeating the Pacers 80-61 in the USA South Conference championship Saturday, Feb. 25, 2023. The team will proudly hang its 12th regular season championship banner in Everett Gymnasium.

In his 28th year coaching at NCWU, Head Coach John Thompson attributes the team's overall success this season to the program being “special.”

“This team, this year, has been incredible to coach,” he says. “And has a lot of guys who have helped sustain and improve our culture in what we call the 'Wesleyan Way.'"

Coach Thompson was also granted the 2022-23 USA South Coach of the Year Award.

Senior Isaiah Lewis & Head Coach John Thompson.
Robert Gonzalez
Senior Isaiah Lewis & Head Coach John Thompson.

“Any Coach of the Year Award, really, you’ve got to have great support. So great play by the players, great work by your assistant coaches, and our training staff trying to keep guys healthy, and on the court. Those are all the things that go into, I think, helping win an award like that.”

Their team holds accolades that include Isaiah Lewis’s USA South Player of the Year, Khalid Chavis-Hinds Defensive Player of the Year, and Brayden Dixon’s and Khalid Chavis-Hinds' All-Conference Second Team.

Seniors RJ Bailey, Brayden Dixon, Isaiah Lewis, and Sal-Bey Young have waited for this moment for their entire collegiate careers.

Young says, “My guys are special … the team meetings, being around each other ... we basically manifested this season to go to where we wanted to go."

Now that the moment has come and gone, they hope to leave behind a legacy that embodies that "Wesleyan Way.”

"It means to get 1% better every day, no matter if it is on the court, off the court, or just in life," Lewis said. "So I went from little minutes to some minutes and ended up All-Conference three years in a row, Player of the Year, a whole bunch of different accolades but I just want to be known as someone who didn’t quit … someone who didn't give up."

“The 'Wesleyan Way' is a way of life,” Dixon says. “Coach T taught us to think like a champion, walk like a champion, play like a champion, study like a champion, and go to class like a champion.”

The men’s team isn’t alone in their success. NCWU’s Women’s basketball team (19-8) coached by Artina Trader, made it to the championship of the USA South Conference tournament before taking their final loss in a battle with Greensboro College.

Caitlin Leggett was WUNC's News Administrative Intern & Youth Reporting Mentor.
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