INDIANAPOLIS — The majority of Americans had plans to watch the NCAA Division I Tournament this weekend.
But just like everything else in the sports world, the NCAA cancelled the tournament, and that included the tournaments for Division II and Division III schools, as well.
The University of Indianapolis, under the direction of former Danville standout Stan Gourd, was not only back in the Division II Tournament for the first time since 2016, the Greyhounds had earned the No. 1 seed in the Midwest Region and they were preparing to host the eight-team tournament at Nicoson Hall in Indianapolis.
“It was very disappointing, but you have to put things into perspective,’’ said Gouard, who has spent the past week at home with his wife, Chasity and their 10-year old daughter, Kennedy Noelle. “The hardest part for me was telling my team that we were done.
“We just had a really good practice (Thursday) in the morning and that’s when I got the word that each team would only be able to have 120 fans. That was very shocking. Our whole university was very excited, because we hadn’t hosted a regional since 1997. Despite what the naysayers thought, we were going to advance to the Elite Eight and possibly win the National Championship.’’
Gouard admitted there were some difficult decisions being made about how many tickets each player was going to get, but that was just the start.
“In between our practice and our team dinner that night, I got the call that changed a lot of people’s lives,’’ he said about the cancellation of the season. “Seeing the look on the faces of my senior players was unbelievable. It was one of the hardest things that I’ve ever had to do as a coach. My point guard (Jimmy King) is a five-year guy in our program and he was just five assists away from being our school’s all-team leader.
“At the end of the day, as disappointed as I am for our program, I’m more worried about the well-being of our country. At the time, I wasn’t sure if it was the right call, but each and every day since, I fully support what they did.’’
UIndy, which ended its season at 24-6, was just one win away from tying the mark of Gouard’s best team, the 2014-15 squad that went 25-6.
“We were definitely going to break that record,’’ Gouard said. “I think this team was better than that team, because we were deeper in talent. This group could go 10 deep and we had five guys, almost six, averaging in double figures. Our second leading scorer (former Parkland standout Marcus Latham) came off the bench.’’
Gouard also admitted this team had a little extra motivation.
“Last year, we went 19-10 and we kept hearing that we were going to make the tournament,’’ Gouard said. “We had a run of six consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances (2011-16) and we thought we were going back. We had a big selection party and we didn’t get our name called. As I walked out of that party, I could see the disappointment on their faces.
“The next day, I walk by the gym and at least 10 of my guys, led by our point guard Jimmy King, were in there. They were determined that we wouldn’t be in that situation again. They were going to control their own destiny and they played that way every day this season. It definitely motivated our guys and we competed at a high level.’’
That was evident in their exhibition games to start the season.
UIndy defeated Loyola of Chicago, 65-60 on Oct. 29 and the very next day lost to Xavier, 64-52 and then two days later, lost to Butler 74-49.
“We put together a really difficult preseason and I think we had the fifth toughest schedule in Division II basketball,’’ Gouard said. “Our RPI was really good and that’s why we earned the No. 1 seed and the right to host the Midwest Region.
“We were being talked about just as much as Butler, IUPUI and the Pacers in Indianapolis.’’
So with the season finished, what does Gouard do for next year?
“First off, take it one day at a time with this coronavirus,’’ he said. “We are restricted as coaches. Everything that I’m doing right now is from home. This is normally a very busy time, as we have to recruit our own guys.’’
Just like any NCAA program, UIndy players can enter the transfer portal.
“I’ve been doing a lot of FaceTime and Skype discussions with our guys,’’ he said.
And what about recruiting new players?
“The NCAA just informed us that we will not be able to go out this spring nor can we bring guys on our campus,’’ he said. “So, we are going back through our notes from the season. Over the year, we have been out recruiting and we have a tone of kids that we have seen and like.’’
Gouard also points out that UIndy has a pair of transfers, Dee Montgomery, a guard from Purdue Fort Wayne, and Jess Bingham, a freshman from Warren Central, that were both redshirts.
“Jesse was an Indiana all-star last year. How many Indiana all-stars have gone Division II?’’ Gouard said. “He is 6-foot-6 and a big-time athlete, and Dee is a Division I transfer.
“That’s to go along with a really good group coming back, so we have a very bright future.’’