Thursday, April 18, 2024

Newport News Shipbuilding Apprentice School Basketball Wins USCAA Small College National Championship

Newport News Shipbuilding Apprentice School won the USCAA National Championship. (Newport News Shipbuilding)

HAMPTON ROADS — Newport News Shipbuilding Apprentice School Basketball was ranked at the top of preseason polls, and using that as inspiration, the Builders went on a National Championship run for the ages.

“Our goal all season long was to win a National Championship. It was something that we felt was pretty realistic going into the year,” Evan Kee, head men’s basketball coach, said.

Facing adversity early in the season, the Builders took some tough losses. In its opening game of the season, the Builders lost 79-70 to Penn State York. The team also lost an exhibition game to Norfolk State University, 90-56.

But as the season progressed, the win column continued to grow. The team finished the regular season with a record of 5-2 in conference play.

Kee noted that the driving force behind his team was reinforcing their common bonds.

“Our guys work in the shipyard, they are also in class eight hours a day. It’s a common struggle that each of them have where they can bound. They are trying to balance school, work, basketball, and their family lives. We were really intentional this year with trying to bring the team together this year by having discussions that had nothing to do with basketball. We had a lot of life discussion where we got a chance to really learn who we all are,” Kee said.

Cutting down the nets post-championship game. (Builders Athletics)

The NSAC Men’s Tournament kicked off in early March. The Builders secured wins against Central International College and Lighthouse Christian College to advance to the USCAA Small College National Championship tournament as the No. 1 seed.

“We were the No. 1 seed in the tournament so we were fairly confident that winning the title was attainable. We had to really beat three good opponents to pull it off. All three teams we played were bigger than us, they had more size with taller guys on their roster. We knew we were capable of it and we knew we had an aggressive, scrappy group if we played up to our abilities,” Kee said.

Game one of the tourney saw the Builders in action against University of Maine at Fort Kent. Both teams traded baskets, but eventually, the Builders pulled away, going on a 21-point run. When the buzzer sounded, the Builders came out on top, 96-79.

The second tourney game pitted the Builders against the Bryant & Stratton Bobcats. The game was close through the first half, with the Bobcats up by one at halftime. After the break, the Builders, refreshed and ready to play, outscored their opponents 8-0. The Bobcats closed the gap, eventually tying the game at 55 before the Builders scored another 10 points to win 69-60.

The win against Bryant & Stratton placed the Builders in contention for the national championship.

“As we won each game, the title became more and more realistic. I just kept telling the guys that we were prepared for this moment. Everything we had done all year prepared us for this moment. I reminded them to be confident and to trust the work that they put in, and to trust one another, and to display who we’ve been all year,” Kee said about prepping his team for the championship game.

Against Lyon College, the team was down for most of the first half, but after scoring the final five points of the half, the Builders were up 33-30. In the second half, the lead swapped multiple times, with the teams close in the final minutes. Using some key defensive stops and free throws, the Builders emerged victorious by a 73-68 final score.

One of the Newport News Shipbuilding Apprentice School basketball players celebrates his National Championship. (Builders Athletics)

“I don’t think it hit me at first. When the game first ended, I shook the opponents’ hands but it wasn’t until I turned around and I could see the excitement on our team’s faces that it really put it into perspective. We accomplished the goal that we set out with to win a national championship, something that hadn’t been done in 21 years. For us, it doesn’t get any bigger than a national championship,” Kee said.

The Builders amassed a final record of 25-5, with only one loss at home. The National Championship is the third in school history after back-to-back wins in 2002 and 2003.

The team was celebrated at the school on March 26 by school officials and students. It also has a banquet planned for later in the spring.

Kee expressed pride in his team.

“I’m just extremely proud of them. Over the course of the year, you deal with adversity. There were days throughout the season where we might not have gotten along as a team, we might have had to talk and work through some things, we dealt with different challenges just like you do in life. Each and every time we faced a challenge, we found a way to overcome it. We have a special group of guys, everyone in our program represents Newport News Shipbuilding extremely well. I couldn’t be more proud to be their coach for the group we have in place.”

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