Despite suspending three players for the remainder of the season on Monday, Columbia College coach Bob Burchard insists he’s focusing on his team’s on-the-court performance, something he says is the reason for the season.
“Right now, this time of year is a celebration of basketball,” Burchard said. “If you’re still playing ball right now, you’re excited.”
Junior forwards Christian Lewis and Mike Aguirre, and freshman forward Jake Alexander were all suspended for the remainder of the season Monday, and their absence means the Cougars now have just two players over 6-2. Freshman Greg Stegeman and senior Mikel Lewis, both 6-6, will try to fill the void left in the paint for the Cougars, who face thirteenth-seeded Azusa Pacific (Calif.) in today’s first round at 2:15 p.m.
The Cougars left for Kansas City Monday after practice, a decision Burchard called a calculated one, especially after his team suffered its first off-the-court disciplinary issue over the weekend. Burchard refused to elaborate on a statement released by Columbia College on Monday about what team policies Lewis, Aguirre, and Alexander broke.
“Maybe it’d be a little bit better to be on a bus, or in a room on the same floor with the coach,” Burchard said of the team’s departure on St. Patrick’s Day. “We’re going to be real busy, so I don’t think we’ll have much time other than concentrating on our ball.”
The NAIA Division I National Championship tournament calls itself “College Basketball’s Toughest Tournament,” referring to the tight scheduling the tournament is known for. In order to take home the title, teams must win five games in five or six days, depending on when the team plays its first-round game. The tournament’s championship game is slated for Tuesday. Teams also have just eight minutes between games to warm up, a far cry from the twenty minutes provided for the regular season, not to mention the hours before the game players spend in the locker room and gym for home games.
“We’ve never gone back in (to the locker room) for warmups,” Burchard said of his team’s pregame ritual. “We do that for a reason, because if you’re ever lucky enough to get to a national tournament, you’ve got to just get out there and go.”
Burchard agreed with the tournament’s self-assessment, and said that with his teams recent loss of depth, the odds for his team took a hit.
“One of our mantras through the entire year has been ‘Many hands make little work’” Burchard said. “I guess maybe we’ll write up ‘Fewer hands make more work,’ so we better work a little harder.”
Columbia College finished the season ranked No. 15 in the final NAIA poll, but senior Trae Hall said that after the suspensions, Burchard was honest when he assessed what was left.
“He just told us that basically this team was at a lower level now than we were in the past when we had everyone,” Hall said. “It’s going to be tougher, but from my perspective, all we really need to do is just work harder to win games.”
Burchard said with all the team issues over the weekend, his staff hasn’t had much time to size up Azusa Pacific, but said it was his team’s focus that he was concerned with.
“The challenge is to focus on the task at hand, and not what’s going on around you,” Burchard said of the atmosphere Municipal Auditorium and Kansas City will provide during and between games. “Whether or not we can put that into practice, well, we’ll find out.”