Hawks 14-9 (GSC 8-7) vs. North Alabama Lions 17-5 (GSC 10-4)
Thursday February 21 • 8 pm • Winthrop-King Centre
By Jim O'Hara
ROME -- They are arguably the most decorated and most successful group of seniors to ever play for the Shorter Hawks – six seniors who emerged as the core group of players that lifted the program to its best season ever, with half of them adding the label "All-American" to their own individual accomplishments.
That's why Thursday night's final home game of the regular season, when Shorter hosts North Alabama in a huge Gulf South Conference showdown trying to break the longest losing skid in four years, is so special.
That's when the Hawks and head coach Chad Warner take time to recognize what has been a very special group of seniors: Walter Hill, Anthony Banks, Kenny Leverette, Marquise King, Devance Harris and C.J. Davis.
"These guys were a part of the winningest season ever in Shorter basketball history," Warner said about the senior Hawks who, in addition of leading the team to an historic 34-3 season and the NAIA Final Four in 2012, have established Shorter's status as a team equal to the task of being a first-year NCAA program in the rugged Gulf South Conference. "One of the things so special about this group is how hard they play for each other," the coach said. "They're all talented players but they'll always ready to help one another. This has been a very special group. We want to celebrate these guys."
"My hope is that they've gained much more through Shorter and the relationships they've formed, with each other and with Christ. Ultimately, their legacy is how they have treated others."
The seniors have certainly treated Shorter fans with some memorable moments, and done so as teammates and with some noteworthy honors.
Hill and Banks will leave Shorter having earned All-American honors, with Hill earning the status twice in addition to being named the Southern States Athletic Conference Player of the Year last season, and Banks putting together a remarkable postseason run in 2012 that not only led to his selection as an All-American but also saw him named the MVP at the SSAC tournament.
Both, however, will be the first to admit that the laurels they landed came as a result of the likes of Leverette, King, Harris and Davis.
"They've all done so much to help put the program into the national spotlight and Shorter is indebted to them," said Warner. "They've worked hard every day and have overcome adversity."
There's no doubt that the Hawks have had their share of adversity this season as Shorter seemed primed at the start of the season to make a run at a conference championship in its first run in the GSC.
Nine games into the year, Davis – the point guard was an All-American at Union (Tenn.) before transferring to Shorter – was lost for the season after a knee injury. The Hawks still managed to adapt and win seven of their next nine games until the team hit another adversity roadblock when Banks was lost for five games with an ankle injury.
Heading into Thursday's home finale against UNA that starts at 8 pm, the Hawks find themselves with 14-9 overall record and an 8-7 slate in the GSC that ties them for fourth place with Valdosta State.
Even more glaring is the fact that Shorter enters the game riding a rare four-game losing streak, something the program hasn't seen since the start of the 2008-09 season, with the most recent defeats coming on the road last week to Delta State and Christian Brothers, the latter team currently deadlocked in the GSC standings with North Alabama.
Needless to say, the Hawks understand that there is still much at stake, with three of the seniors continuing to lead the team – Hill leads Shorter averaging 14.2 points a game; Banks, who has returned to action, averages 14.2 points and a team-best 7.4 rebounds; and Leverette is the third Hawk scoring in double figures with 10.5 output.
After hosting the Lions, Shorter wraps up the regular season with a pair of GSC road games, visiting Union (Tenn.) on Saturday and taking on conference leader Alabama-Huntsville in March 2 in the finale.
The Hawks, however, aren't through as their postseason begins the following week in the National Christian College Athletic Association tournament.
"The bottom line is that we must continue to find a way to overcome adversity," said Warner. "We've got a good team, but right now we don't have any room for errors."
"We still have a lot to play for."