Mount Olive not intimidated by bigger stage
By Gabe Whisnant
Published in Sports on March 23, 2005 2:29 PM
MOUNT OLIVE -- Nearly 1,700 miles away in Grand Forks, N.D., Mount Olive's men's basketball team begins today what they hope will be a three-game march to a Division II national championship.
Their Carolinas-Virginia Athletic Conference regular-season and tournament shedule, along with East Regional contests should have them well prepared for their opposition.
But, what about the venue?
The 400,000-square foot, 11, 456-capacity Ralph Englstad Arena is home to the University of North Dakota's men's and women's hockey, basketball and women's volleyball team. It's widely recognized as one of the best overall facilities in the Northwest United States. The main purpose for the building's construction in the early 2000's was for North Dakota Fighting Sioux hockey.
This week the scene will shift from puck to roundball.
"It's one of the best facilities in the U.S. period. It's one of that area's top attractions," Mount Olive coach Bill Clingan said. "I think the biggest thing is we'll have to keep our feet on the ground. We just have to keep focused."
The Trojans may have not seen anything close to the likes of the state-of-the-art arena during the regular season. But, think way back to Nov. 12, 2004.
Mount Olive faced national-power North Carolina in front of 14,457 people (mostly wearing baby blue) in the Dean Smith Center in their second exhibition game of the season. North Carolina's eventual 100-69 win means practically nothing now. The fact the Trojans played in a vast facility like the Dean Dome may prove to be golden.
"I've really tried to play in some setting like that for several years now," Clingan said. "Every year you can't make that happen. We try to do that every year, just in case you do go deep in the postseason. We will never play in any bigger facility than the Dean Dome, and the crowd we saw there will help us prepare for the outing we are about to face."
Does a certain scene from the classic movie "Hoosiers" come to mind?
Upon arriving in the larger, state championship gymnasium, coach Norman Dale, played by Gene Hackman, breaks out his measuring tape and has his players measure the distance from the floor to the basket.
The moral of the story is ... it's the same ball and the same sized court that you play on all year, regardless of the seating capacity.
"Every gym you walk into, the basket is round and the ball fits in the goal. There isn't much difference," Clingans said. "Every floor is the same, it's just the seats and how high the floor is that's different. is the same. We've talked about doing what we have to do. We've got a tough opponent (Bryant University) the first game.
Clingan seemed mostly concerned with the depth-perception of his shooters.
"We have several drills that will help them get a feel of the floor, baskets and ceilings. Shooters have to adjust to the ceiling," Clingan said. "We will try to do a lot of shooting (Tuesday) and go over a few things we will probably use on wednesday. The 25-minute shoot around on Wednesday, we will take advantage of as well."
Eventhough both of its East Regional appearances the last two years have been at CVAC rival Pfeiffer, Mount Olive also has that experience of playing in two regional formats on a neutral court. Along with that factor, they have the proven ability to quickly prepare and succeed against unknown opponents in the day-to-day tournament grind.
"No doubt that (East Regional) will help lead us into the format we will see," Clingan said. "I like our times ... 1 p.m. on Wednesday, then three additional games and we wouldn't come back the next day until 7 p.m. It gives us a shot to scout the second game, and be off of our feet more than 24 hours before we play again.
"I think the format of the regional really helped us prepare for this second go-round in the Elite Eight tournament."
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