Coach Wes Miller gives instruction to the team while Nicholas Paulos and Korey Van Dussen come off the court.
Coach Wes Miller gives instruction to the team while Nicholas Paulos and Korey Van Dussen come off the court.
Yes to Wes

After a season of turnarounds and rebounds, Wes Miller was officially named head coach of men's basketball.

With team members and his mentor Tar Heels coach Roy Williams looking on at the announcement event, Miller looked to the future: “We have all the resources here at UNCG to take this to the next level.”

And he wasn't shy about saying what that next level was: ”To consistently compete for championships…That means dancing. We want to dance.”

Two months earlier, no one was in a dancing mood. Going into a road trip, the team had lost 11 in a row. They were playing under interim head coach Wes Miller, as coach Mike Dement had stepped aside in December. They were hanging together.

They got their first SoCon win at College of Charleston. They stayed in town to face The Citadel, in a game that went back and forth at the wire. The Citadel knocked a pass out of bounds with a split second to go, UNCG down by one.

Coach Miller drew up a play, one he'd seen the NBA's Knicks use. They'd never practiced it. “That could work,” point guard Drew Parker thought. Not only the most accurate 3-point shooter on the team, Parker led in assists. So the ball was placed in his hands on the sideline. “A little nerve-racking,” he said. “You don't want to mess up.”

With a split second, he knew it needed to be a tip in or dunk. “I see Korey is wide open,” he said in recounting the play. But not a smart option — it would take Korey Van Dussen too long to get off a shot. Meanwhile, Trevis Simpson rolled off a screen and barreled down the lane. Simpson can sky — one of his alley-oop dunks at Miami had been on ESPN Sportscenter's Top 10 Plays of the Day.

Parker had one thought on his long pass: “It has to get towards the rim.”

A catch near the rim, by Simpson, and near-simultaneous quick slam. The buzzer. The bench erupted.

The News & Record devoted two-thirds of its front sports page to the play, under the banner header “UNCG's Triumphant Return.” A video clip of the game's last moment got well over 10,000 views on YouTube.

The ride home had a different atmosphere, Parker explained. “We hadn't had a two-game winning streak in a long time.”

The season took on a whole different cast. They returned home to ultimately extend their winning streak to seven games, their best run in 16 years. Two of those wins were in overtime. Dozens of students rushed the court after one.

The students began to cheer “I believe that we will win!” And signs such as “Miller for President” and “Don't mess with the Hoff” — referencing big-man Taylor Hoffer — dotted the student section as well. On his 29th birthday, the students sang “Happy Birthday” to Miller from the stands. After that win, Miller and the players stressed that everyone had each other's backs.

They won the SoCon North division title outright, a first for the team.

He reflected on what the team had done in an interview with the Times-News. “A group of guys took a really difficult situation, showed the highest level of character and came together and achieved something that's never happened in this school's history.”

Next season, sophomore Trevis Simpson, named first-team All-SoCon, will return, as will third-team All-SoCon Derrell Armstrong, a junior.

The players will hit the training rooms and weight rooms. Wes Miller, who was named the media's SoCon Coach of the Year, has hit the recruiting trail.

And Athletics has launched ticket promotions for next year, with the tagline “Say Yes to Wes.” For details, visit www.ourgreensboroourcoach.com.

Wes-ward, ho! Enjoy a multimedia piece on the announcement of Wes Miller as head basketball coach

Rebounds and turnarounds Check out photo galleries of the men's basketball team in action.

 

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From left to right: Paul Katam, Paul Chelimo, Michael Koech and Abraham Kemboi
From left to right: Paul Katam, Paul Chelimo, Michael Koech and Abraham Kemboi
Health-conscious running

Have big dreams? You can overcome big obstacles.

Paul Katam, Paul Chelimo, Michael Koech and Abraham Kemboi all have unique stories. All are from Kenya. And all are on scholarships at UNCG, living their dreams of becoming health care professionals in their homeland.

Paul Katam's dad is a farmer. Now, he's an Academic All-American, in pre-Nursing. Last spring, he missed by one person advancing from Regionals to Nationals. “It was very painful.” Three seconds faster, he'd have gone. But he's a sophomore. “I know I have potential to qualify in cross-country, indoor and outdoor for Nationals.” He plans to attend graduate school, then return to Kenya to improve health facilities. “I want to assist patients — and the health of people in my home area.”

Abraham Kemboi plans to attend graduate school to concentrate on infectious diseases, then work with the World Health Organization or similar group in Africa. Malaria is his area of interest. This past year, he shaved almost two minutes off his time in cross country 8,000 meters. In fact, men's and women's teams won the SoCon championships this year.

Paul Chelimo is also in public health — last semester, he scored a 4.0. (“In a different language,” his coach adds.) He nods at his teammates from Kenya: “We're trying to improve health standards in Kenya.”

Chelimo became UNCG's first runner to be All-American, at fall's cross-country Nationals. At Indoor Nationals, he was All-American again. He's a sophomore, and only began running his final year of high school. “I was self-trained,” says Chelimo. His mother encouraged him. “I'd wake up at 6, go run and come back.”

He did train for one month at a camp for runners. Now he has a coach and teammates. He has new running shoes. Coach Linh Nguyen, named SoCon Coach of the Year last fall, notes that most Kenyan runners buy used shoes — new ones would be too expensive. With a UNCG education, their life prospects are radically different, as well as the impact they will have on many others.

They join teammates for Ci-Ci's Pizza — their favorite American food. And they have twice prepared traditional Kenyan meals for their team. Whenever teammates stop by, they are bound to be offered Ugali, sort of a corn meal stew. And Kenyan tea, which is sort of caramel tasting.

In December, Mike Koech received his degree in public health, and is working on a second degree in biology. He may get a position with Family Health International. His coach loves how he has picked up so many American idioms. And how the team has bonded and broadened their international perspectives.

It's about more than who finishes first. The finish line is just the start.

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Aisha Figueroa
Aisha Figueroa
Softball, international style

If you have game, you can really go places.

When then-freshman Aisha Figueroa took the field for the Spartans in a Florida tournament last spring, her year got put on a unique trajectory. “One of the girls for the Puerto Rican team plays for Florida State. Her dad saw me playing. He's one of the coaches for Team Puerto Rico.” He asked if she wanted to try out last summer. She did — and she competed at the Pan Am Games in Mexico.

Her father was born in Puerto Rico, making her eligible for the team.

Spartan Coach Jennifer Herzig was very supportive. “She was really, really excited for me,” she says.

Jennifer Bonilla '07 also played for the Puerto Rican team.

“You're playing on a National team, against some of the best players in the world,” Figueroa said. Team Puerto Rico played well enough in the Games to advance to the World Championship, where Figueroa will compete this summer.

She is majoring in sociology with a concentration is criminology.

“I want to do some sort of law enforcement, when I graduate.” A criminal justice course she is taking this spring is a favorite — and a lot of her family has been in law enforcement.

Why law enforcement? “They make a difference. I want to make a difference, somehow.”

She made a difference at the Pan Am Games, batting .409 for the Games, one of the best marks for any team.

A memorable game for her was facing Team USA. “I was really, really nervous.” But Puerto Rico was the only team that scored on them, keeping it close at a very respectable 4-1 score.

She feels that confidence will likely carry over to her Spartan season. As a freshman, she'd led the Spartans in steals and was second in runs scored. This year, she entered the season preseason All-SoCon, as she moved to a new position: shortstop.

She's not afraid to stretch herself — like she did in joining a national team as rising sophomore. “It was a great experience. I'll remember it forever.”

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