COLUMBIA — Columbia College men’s basketball coach Bob Burchard had been bugging freshman forward Jake Alexander all year to shave his signature shaggy Afro down to something more conservative. When Alexander showed up to practice Monday looking less likely to inspire double takes, Burchard was pleased.
Until the rest of the team showed up.
After their 20th win, an 86-48 victory at Williams Baptist on Saturday, senior Lee Sattler, and juniors Joe Flanner, Brett Hoskins and Christian Lewis decided to channel their inner punk-rockers and shaved their hair into Mohawks.
“Some of the guys were saying to do it because we hit 20 wins,” Lewis said. “I think we just kind of wanted to shave our heads and do something different.”
The Mohawk has seen a resurgence of late, with the NFL’s Chad Johnson, the NBA’s Ron Artest and more than 40 members of the South Florida football team all adopting the hairstyle.
“I guess it’s just a lot like coaching,” Burchard said. “You finally get one under control, then you turn around and lose four others.”
Burchard might not be a huge fan of the look, but he does like what it symbolizes for his team.
“The guys are excited,” Burchard said. “It’s nice to be here late in the season and guys are still really enthusiastic. I think that’s an indicator more than anything else. Sometimes teams get to the end of February into March and are like, ‘Well, OK, I’m kind of done with this,’ but it’s nice to be around guys who are still excited to be in the gym and excited to be together, and when I thought about it during practice that’s what I thought about. You wouldn’t do something like that if you were just ready to head to the tanning booth and get ready for spring break.”
That’s clearly not the case with the Cougars. There is plenty to be excited about.
On Jan. 26, Columbia College traveled to Lebanon, Ill. to face a McKendree team then ranked 15th in the NAIA with a 5-0 conference mark. The Cougars lost 79-50, and put themselves two games behind McKendree in the American Midwest Conference. At that time, closing the gap and capturing the conference title seemed impossible.
But on Saturday, Illinois-Springfield put a blemish on McKendree’s then-perfect conference record with a 72-65 upset of the No. 10 Bearcats, dropping them to 9-1 in conference.
Heading into Thursday’s game against Illinois-Springfield, No. 23 Columbia College is 8-2 in conference, and with a rematch against McKendree looming next week, the Cougars still have a chance at the conference title.
The players say the upset gave the Cougars a much-needed confidence boost and shattered the idea of McKendree being invincible.
“We knew somewhere along the line, somebody had to beat them, in order for us to get to the top of the conference,” Flanner said. “That helped us out a lot, and now, it’s in our hands, all we have to do is win out, and we’re at the top of the conference heading into nationals.”
Illinois-Springfield (7-2 in the AMC), which the Cougars beat in overtime earlier in the season, boasts six players with double-digit scoring averages. Burchard said the Cougars will see a hungry team Thursday.
“We really had to fight hard just to get that game into overtime,” Burchard said. “They had a lead on us the whole game, and based on what they’re saying, my assumption is that they feel they let one get away, so they’re going to be loaded up and trying to get a little bit of payback. I know if I was on their end, that’s what I’d be thinking.”
Trae Hall, the Cougars’ leader on the floor and in the scoring column, agreed with his coach but said his team has plenty of motivation too.
“They’re going to come in here wanting to beat us pretty bad, but this is a big game for us, one we really need to win.”
On Monday, though, Hall was thinking about his teammates’ hairstyles. He said he was glad he decided to maintain a more conventional look.
“I thought it was a little crazy when I heard about it, but then I actually saw it today.” Hall said. “That’s definitely not for me. I’m just going to try and stay handsome the way I am.”
After practice, Burchard made fun of the new hairdos, even questioning where the rest of the team was when his more adventurous players broke out the razor.
“I wondered why they didn’t get Miroslav (Lukic), you left him out,” Burchard said. “I wondered why they didn’t get (assistant) coach (Sean) Dooley. We’ll see where that takes us, though.”