If you are a serious basketball fan who has thought about taking in a University of Northwestern Ohio (UNOH) game but have never gotten around to it, you should check out the Racers game Thursday night. Indiana Wesleyan, the defending NAIA division two national champions, come to town and bring with them an impressive resume. Wesleyan has won two of the last three national championships and is currently ranked number three in the country.
When the season began, this game loomed as a nearly impossible challenge for coach Chris Adams’ young squad, but the Racer cream is rising to the top much faster than expected. Last year, injuries crippled a promising team and the Racers literally limped to the finish line in a season where nothing seemed to go UNOH’s way. But coach Adams reshuffled the deck and brought in seven new faces to the program hoping to change the course of their fortunes. Blending only three returning seniors with so many newcomers was a daunting challenge but the Racers have enjoyed stunning success in climbing near the top of the WHAC conference standings and boasting an 11-4 record (7-1 in the conference). Included in those wins was a recent victory, on their home court, over No. 7 ranked Davenport University.
Coach Adams cites two keys in explaining his team’s surprising early success. “Our three seniors (Lawrence Jackson, Ziar Anderson and Ray Beatty) all got better in the off season,” he said. “And the veterans were willing to merge their talents with the exciting group of new players we brought in.” The result has been that the development of the Racer chemistry is way ahead of schedule.
Sadeeq Bellow and Corbin Pierce are two newcomers who have dramatically impacted this year’s squad. The two were teammates on North Carolina’s Davidson County Community College and led their team to the national junior college finals last season. Their talent instantly provided UNOH with the offensive firepower the Racer program desperately needed. They had numerous opportunities to continue their playing career but coach Adams pulled a bit of a coup in enlisting their services.
“I offered their teammate Daniel Page first, says coach Adams, but I wasn’t sure we would have a real shot at Corbin and Sadeeq.” Once Page, a 6’6” post player, was signed he began to talk with his teammates about the opportunities and advantages at UNOH. They listened.
Bello, a 5-9 point guard, was the next to commit. Sadeeq redefines the word speed on the basketball floor. Watching him push the ball coast to coast is like watching a Bugatti on a race track suddenly slam into fifth gear and leave everyone else behind. He combines his speed with a soft shooting touch and a “feel” for the game that all great point guards possess. Bello says he decided to sign with UNOH because, “I was just really comfortable with my visit. I felt wanted here.”
Corbin Pierce, a 6-6 wing from Knoxville, Tennessee, cited his first impression of coach Adams and his familiarity with Bello as motivations for his decision to attend UNOH. “I was impressed with coach Adams’ attention to detail,” he says. “He came and watched me play and then broke my game down perfectly.” Pierce, a natural scorer and deep three threat, understands the value of playing with a great point guard. “I already knew what Sadeeq could do,” says Corbin. Once he signed with UNOH, I wanted to continue playing with him. He knows how to get the ball into the right place at the right time”
The addition of Bello (15.1) and Pierce (13.6) gives the Racers two double figure scorers to go with UNOH All-American Lawrence Jackson (15.1). But the depth of the Racers has been just as important to their success according to coach Adams. He explained, “In the college game, ideally, you want your starters to play around 14 of the 20 minutes in each half. They get a break at the thirteen-minute mark and then return to the game to play the last seven minutes. Those six minutes in each half that your bench plays are often the difference in a basketball game. We feel like our talent level does not drop off dramatically when we go to the bench this season. It’s been a huge factor for us.”
UNOH now heads into the heart of their schedule, the “grind” as coach Adams often describes it. After their showdown with Indiana Wesleyan tomorrow night, they wade into 13 straight WHAC conference games in their quest for a league title and a possible berth in the NAIA post season tournament. That schedule includes another block buster home game one week from tonight with Cornerstone University, currently the number one ranked team in the nation.
Sadeeq Bellow charted their course and potential declaring, “Our chemistry has picked up. We feel like we can score with anybody. Our defense just needs to catch up with our offense.” When it does, the Racers can play with any NAIA team in the country.
Starting with their game tomorrow night, UNOH will have plenty of opportunities to prove that point.
Bob Seggerson writes a basketball column for The Lima News. He is a member of the Ohio High School Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame, retiring in 2010 after 32 years at Lima Central Catholic, where he recorded 517 wins. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org