Richard Bland Is No. 1 In NJCAA Polls
By Ryan Lazo, sports editor
Jan 28, 2014, 17:56
Ryan Lazo/Hopewell News/News-Patriot
PETERSBURG — After completing a perfect week of basketball with victories over No. 2 ranked Louisburg College, Pittsburgh Community College and Lenior Community College, Richard Bland jumped from No. 7 in the National Junior College Athletic Association Polls to No. 1.
Yes, Richard Bland is the No. 1 team in the country in the NJCAA's Division II tier.
It's an achievement made all the more remarkable considering where the Statesmen athletic program began this current season. The program, laid dormant for almost 20 years, has propelled itself to immediate success on the basketball court.
The Richard Bland squad, built together with under-recruited players with chips on their shoulders, have bought into the system head coach Chuck Moore envisioned prior to the season. The high-octane offensive pace of play combined with tenacity on the defensive end has led to an 11-game winning-streak and a 19-1, 8-1 record.
However, Moore says the earning the top overall ranking is a recognition of his team and coaching staff's work ethic to be the best they can be.
"Receiving this ranking is definitely an honor for the program, the players and the college," Moore said. "It shows that we are trying to reach the goals we are setting for our student-athletes and that's achieving excellence and becoming No. 1 in the country is the best you can get in the regular season."
But the No. 1 ranking should not be much of a surprise to those who have followed the team all season long.
The Statesmen have taken the NJCAA by surprise with their attacking-style of play and focus on pushing the tempo with transition baskets. The offensive flow is bolstered by players who are the perfect pieces to the puzzle Moore has created.
At 6-foot-3, it's easy for opponents and opposing coaches to overlook Richard Bland forward Tavon Mealy. However, they have quickly learned that it would be a mistake to look past the former NJCAA Player of the Week. Mealy's physicality underneath and ability to finish around the rim makes him the perfect rugged forward in Moore's system.
He's accompanied in the low-blocks by Melvin Gregory, a 6-foot-8 forward who has the ability to stretch the floor with an 18-foot jump-shot. Yet, it's Gregory's presence on the defensive end by blocking shots which allows Mealy to draw critical charges and force turnovers.
But that's not all Moore has at his disposal.
He also deploys 5-foot-9 guard Micah Thomas along the perimeter where he hits 3-pointers to a tune of a 48 percent clip while leading the Statesmen in scoring at 18.5 points per game.
Yet, even Moore knows the Statesmen will need to elevate their play even more with the new national ranking as more teams will treat games against them as a chance to make a statement.
"It's exhilarating to be named the No. 1 team in the country, but now it means that we have a bigger mark on our chests," Moore explained. "We are going to have continue to play basketball at a high level because teams are going to give us their best shot every night."
However, above all else, the national exposure has an even greater affect on the college as a whole. It brings what the college has done to the focus where without the success of the athletics programs it may not have received attention.
As the basketball program has risen to new heights, so has the academics of Richard Bland with the addition of new programs of study to attract more students to campus. It's an aspect Moore looks at as the most important part of having such immediate success on the basketball court.
"Our academic programs and our school as a whole is growing and doing so aggressively," Moore said. "Hopefully with our athletics and academics, people realize we are a phenomenal college to become a student or a student-athlete."
With Richard Bland sitting atop of the NJCAA Division II polls, more recognition will follow as the Statesmen aim to conquer their final goal — a national championship.