D2 Men's Update: 10 Reasons to Root for Slippery Rock
On March 15, 2015:
Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars’ “Uptown Funk” sat atop the Billboard 100 for the 10th consecutive week.
The Karl-Anthony Towns and Devin Booker-led Kentucky Wildcats just earned the No. 1 overall seed in the Division I Men’s NCAA Tournament.
Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili all reached double figures in points to lead the Spurs to a 123-97 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Now, what do this date and these events have to do with anything?
Well, March 15, 2015 was the last time Slippery Rock reached the Division II NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament.
93 months. 406 weeks. 2,845 days — have all come and gone since The Rock reached “The Big Dance.”
For head coach Ian Grady and his current squad, those numbers cannot evaporate soon enough.
With a combination of established veterans and eager underclassmen, Slippery Rock is poised to end its eight-year drought and return to postseason play — and the time has come for college basketball fans and experts to take notice.
Here's 10 reasons why you should root for The Rock to roll into the NCAA Tournament:
1. History is Being Made
Through their first 10 games, The Rock established itself as a contender in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference and beyond, jumping to a 9-2 record and 3-2 conference mark. The team’s scintillating start has allowed them to not only garner national attention — as they enter 2023 as the No. 8 team in the D2SIDA Atlantic Region rankings — but also make some history. Following their 60-52 victory over Bloomsburg University on Dec. 19, Slippery Rock secured its third-best 10-game start to a season in the program’s 112-year existence, trailing only the 1923-24 and 2009-10 squads, who both achieved 10-0 records.
For coach Grady, this near record-breaking success was no fluke.
“It was expected,” Grady said. “Going into the season, we had expectations for ourselves. And we’re not surprised by the way we started. We have good people in the program…not only good players, but good people. And they’re committed to the program.”
The Rock’s historic start could bode well for the team’s NCAA Tournament aspirations. The last time this program earned a 9-1 record came during the 1990-91 season, a year that culminated in — you guessed it — a punched ticket to the Big Dance.
2. Amante Britt is a “Rock Star”
What’s not to like about Amante “Scrap” Britt? A fifth-year starter and the team’s unquestioned leader on and off the floor, Britt has accumulated an impressive collegiate resume that is worth celebrating. He ranks eighth in program history in minutes played and assists, ninth in steals and 11th in 3-point field goals. Britt — who currently leads the team with 16 points, 1.5 steals, 1.7 threes and 29.8 minutes a game this season — will only add to his impressive numbers. If the Wilkinsburg, Pennsylvania native takes the floor as The Rock’s starting point guard an additional 15 times this season, he will hold the all-time program record in total starts, breaking 1991 graduate Myron Brown’s previous record of 111.
Britt’s unique durability is not only attributed to his improving stamina, but also his unwavering dedication and passion for basketball.
“I never missed a high school practice or high school game either,” Britt said. “It’s just a mindset. I just love basketball, so I want to get as many reps and be around the game as much as I can. It’s just my will to want to play the game.”
Aside from the records, Britt has amassed an equally impressive resume off the court. After graduating with a bachelor's degree in integrated marketing last spring, “Scrap” is pursuing a master’s degree in business administration. He began his graduate term in style, earning a 4.0 GPA in the fall, putting him on track to earn his diploma this spring.
Among all the personal accomplishments, Britt has remained steadfast towards what he declared is his biggest goal this season.
“I want to win,” Britt said. “I want to get a piece of that championship before I leave, and an NCAA run. The personal accolades are fine, but I want to win. And I feel like we have a pretty good chance to make that happen.”
3. Rocky the Mascot
What’s not to love about Rocky? He stands at an intimidating 6-4, weighs in at 265 pounds and has some “rock hard” abs. To make him even better, Rocky excels at his job. Since transitioning from a large rock from the early 1980s through 2000 — yes, Slippery Rock’s mascot was an actual rock — into the now more intimidating green and gray lion, Rocky’s talents have been recognized by the conference. Due to his joyous personality and unmatched school spirit, the giant lion has taken home the title of the PSAC’s best mascot a few times, most notably in the 2012-13 school year when he defeated his PSAC competitors in a Twitter contest. Take that, Avalanche the Golden Bear! How could Rocky get any cooler? Well, he has his own video game, too. That’s right, you can channel the mascot’s brute strength and power in his very own custom browser-based game called “Rocky Rocky Roll.” Pretty cool for a mascot who was just a lowly rock 22 years ago.
4. It’s not just the Amante Britt Show
While Britt may lead the team in several statistical categories, The Rock’s early season success is attributed to a total team effort. In its nine wins, six players have reached double figures in points, with Britt and junior guard/forward Khalid Gates leading the way with eight and seven double-figure performances. Aside from the usual offensive performers, Grady has also received added production from his bench — headlined by redshirt freshman guard Jomo Goings and the “funniest man on the team,” junior forward Lashon Lindsey. Although they have made just six combined starts, the two alternates have emerged as key contributors to their 9-win team. Through 11 games, they have amassed a combined 14.9 points and 9.4 rebounds per game. Their impact was most evident in the team’s 82-60 trouncing of Daemen on Nov. 22, where Lindsey and Goings totaled 19 points on 8-15 shooting along with a combined seven rebounds.
Slippery Rock’s widespread roster production has helped drive the team’s early season success, as it has turned into a luxury that Grady and his staff have not benefited from in previous seasons.
“We have a deep team,” Grady said. “That’s one of the strengths of our team this year, [which is] different than years past. You can go back to the box scores, typically we are playing nine or ten players in every game. There’s been a lot of guys that have stepped up.”
5. They Dominate in the Classroom
Slippery Rock is locked in on achieving its goals on the court this season, but that does not mean it has lost sight of its objectives in the classroom. Grady’s roster has increased its cumulative GPA in each of the past four academic years, with the team finishing the 2021-22 term with a 3.080 average — fifth of 18 PSAC teams. This year, The Rock has picked up right where it left off. After four players earned a spot on the PSAC Scholar-Athlete List in the 2021-22 season, five earned a 4.0 GPA last semester. That list includes Britt, freshman forward Mack Staunch, graduate guard/forward Nik Cazacu, redshirt freshman guard Trey Metzka and redshirt sophomore guard Bobby Clifford.
The Rock’s recent academic success holds important value for Grady, as it is something he has committed to improving upon since taking over as head coach in 2018.
“When I took over the job, that was one of the points of emphasis that the administration and leadership at SRU wanted to [focus] on,” Grady said. “We knew that it needed to improve, so we just put a big emphasis on that. We’re proud of what we have done.”
6. “BumbleBee Tuna”
Ohio State has “Hang on Sloopy.” West Virginia has “Country Roads.” Wisconsin has “Jump Around.” Slippery Rock has …. “Bumblebee Tuna?” Yes, you read that right - Bumblebee Tuna. Although this song is not played during men’s basketball games, this unique marching band tradition has been synonymous with Slippery Rock University since its inauguration in 2002. Initiated by former euphonium player and 2005 SRU graduate Kit Keiper, who founded this idea during a lunch break, the Slippery Rock marching band performs their rendition of the BumbleBee Seafoods commercial jingle during timeouts of home football games. This often results in Rock fans singing along to these catchy lyrics in unison: "Yum Yum Yumblebee BumbleBee Tuna. I love a sandwich made with BumbleBee.”
7. They Don’t Quit
While Slippery Rock has powered its way to a 9-2 record, its games are rarely a snooze-fest. In their first nine wins, The Rock made sure fans kept watching as it has shown a flair for the dramatic with three comeback wins. The team’s status as “comeback kids” sprouted in their 68-62 opening-night victory over Alderson Broaddus. After trailing for the entire first half and by a game-high nine points with 18:10 left to play, The Rock didn't panic, outscoring the Battlers 42-29 in the second period and embarking on a 7-0 run to end the game. Later in the season, The Rock found themselves in familiar territory, falling behind Wheeling 64-54 with 12:36 to play. Much like the season-opening victory, Slippery Rock exhibited its perseverance, commencing a 20-10 run and relinquishing the deficit for good with a game-winning, mid-range jump shot from Britt.
Although Grady admitted he would love for his team to put opponents away early, their tendency to come from behind and emerge victorious is a testament to their resilient and persistent character.
“It speaks to the mentality of the players,” Grady said. “One of the pillars of our program that we talk about is toughness. And a big thing of that is mental toughness. Being able to persevere through difficult circumstances. When things might not be going your way, not to give up and keep fighting through. It takes a lot of discipline to keep that mentality and toughness.”
8. The Defense is Stellar
While The Rock has a plethora of offensive firepower, defensive tenacity and pressure is the foundation. Through December, the team has stifled opponents on the defensive end, holding them to under 40 percent shooting and forcing 15 or more turnovers in six of their first 10 games. This is a marked improvement from last year’s defensive efforts, as Slippery Rock finished the season ranked 13th in the conference in opponent field-goal percentage at 45.4 percent.
“We knew we needed to improve on that, we knew that hurt us at times last year,” Grady said. “So it was a bigger emphasis in the preseason workouts and when the official practice started. It’s player driven, they made the commitment to want to do it.”
The Rock’s dedication to a more consistent defensive effort is spearheaded by a quartet of ballhawks. Lindsey has emerged as one of the top defenders in the PSAC after forcing 15 steals through 10 games - a mark tied with Britt for 18th in the conference. Also making an impact with their pressure are Goings, senior guard/forward Jonathan McFall and redshirt sophomore guard/forward Ahmad Galimore, who have each contributed double-figures in total steals.
9. Myron Brown
Few Division-II men’s basketball programs can say that they have produced an NBA-drafted player. Slippery Rock is an exception. After setting the program record for points scored and securing the 1991 Basketball Times’ Division-II Player of the Year Award — an accolade handed out by the popular print magazine that preceded College Basketball Times — Myron Brown made history. On June 26th, 1991, the Pennsylvania native was drafted by the Minnesota Timberwolves with the 34th overall pick, making him the lone player in Slippery Rock history selected by an NBA team. Although he appeared in just four games with the Timberwolves before moving into the Continental Basketball Association, Brown can serve as an example to current Rock players that their loftiest basketball dreams can be fulfilled right in Morrow Field House.
10. Ian Grady
It's tough to root against a guy who has spent 14 years trying to lead his team to the promised land. Grady looks as if he is still in college, but has spent more than a decade instilling a competitive culture at Slippery Rock. The baby-faced Fairmont State alum first joined The Rock staff in 2009, serving as a graduate assistant. While Grady served as an assistant coach from 2012-2018, The Rock amassed a .623 winning percentage, earned five 20-win seasons and achieved three NCAA Tournament berths. The winning mentality has carried over to Grady’s tenure as head coach, where he has led The Rock to a 60-37 record and three consecutive PSAC tournament appearances. Now, as he guides his team through his fifth season as skipper, Grady searches for the missing accomplishment on his already-decorated resume — an NCAA Tournament berth.
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