The Richmond Register

March 12, 2014

OVC BASKETBALL: Wiersma, Newton have won OVC titles at EKU as players and members of the coaching staff

By Bob Flynn
Register Sports Writer

RICHMOND — When the Colonels won the OVC Tournament in Nashville on Saturday it was the third conference title for EKU since 2005.

Two members of the team’s coaching staff have played major roles in that run of success.

Ryan Wiersma, EKU’s director of basketball operations, and assistant coach Austin Newton both won OVC titles as players and they got to celebrate another championship last week.

In 2005, Newton was a senior guard when the Colonels won the OVC Tournament on a late-game shot by Zack Ingles. EKU then played the University of Kentucky in the first round of the NCAA Tournament in Indianapolis.

Wiersma was a freshman on that 2005 team and was a junior on the 2007 team that won the OVC on a last-second three pointer by Josh Taylor and advanced to play North Carolina, the NCAA Tournament’s No. 1 seed, in Winston-Salem N.C.

Though it’s been nine years for Newton and seven years for Wiersma, both said they still remember the emotions they felt when the final buzzer sounded.

“My senior year in 2005, there was a lot of work that went into turning the program around. My first two years were some bad years, so that year was special for me because we knew how bad we were when we all first got here and we turned it around,” Newton said. “I’ll never forget that feeling when it finally sunk in that we were OVC Champs and that we were going to get to go to the NCAA Tournament. It’s a special feeling.”

Wiersma said the memories from the titles he won as a player are as vivid now as they were the day it happened.

“I can still picture in my mind the emotions going through that day and Ingles hitting that big shot in 2005. Then in 2007 with Josh Taylor’s shot. I still remember exactly what I did, exactly how I felt. It was amazing,” Wiersma said. “I don’t think it really sets in until a few weeks after it calms down and after you’re done playing, what just happened. You are excited and you’re tired at the same time after you win. But once things start settling down you realize just how big what just happened really is.”

Both said the experience this time, from the bench as part of the coaching staff, was just as rewarding because they got to see their players excitement as they shared the moment with their families.

“It is an unreal experience because you know that every kid has a different story and a different path to EKU and to the championship. So just seeing those guys having that moment with their families is something I will never forget,” Newton said. “Watching Cosey run over and hugging his mom, Deverin Muff and walk-on Ryan Parsons ... the ultimate team guy, to see him get that moment with his mom and dad and family was just a special moment for them. It’s something that doesn’t happen very often and we got to be a part of that and got to share that with them.”

Newton said he tried to share his experiences from the OVC championships and NCAA Tournaments with current Colonels players leading up to the OVC Tournament last week.

“I don’t think guys understand how special it is until you actually experience it. So I took it upon myself to talk to them about how hard you have to work to win it, what it’s like to win it and what comes after,” Newton said. “I always stick around and shoot after practice with Glenn Cosey and Corey Walden and I talked to them about this being his last chance. About this week right now with all the media attention and how special it is.”

Newton said it gets a little crazy around the program the week following an OVC title especially now with all the social media.

“In 2005 when we won it, you would get phone calls from friends and family, but now it’s crazy with all the social media,” Newton said. “When I got home the other night after the game I had 114 text messages and 196 e-mails from people I played with and people I coached with congratulating me. It’s kind of overwhelming trying to get back to everybody and trying to talk to everybody.”

The players have had a few days to enjoy their big win and all the media and fan attention that goes with it, but now it’s time to get back to business because there is still a big game to play next week.

The coaches will conduct individual workouts with the players beginning today then full-scale practices will begin in earnest on Thursday, Newton said.

But Newton said he expects the team to approach the game with the same focus they did the OVC Tournament, which he said, was the most intensely focused they had been all season.

“We had a team meal before the SEMO game in the tournament and I could see they were ready to play that night. The next day when we went over film of SEMO I could tell they were just so focused and locked in. It was a special feeling to see that they really wanted to win that thing,” Newton said.

“I think when these guys come back to practice it’s going to be a business-like approach. We’re happy that we won, but we are trying to carry that same focus they had a week ago, into this week. We’ve showed that we can play with a lot of people this year. The last time I think everybody was just happy to be going to the dance. I think this year it’s a little different feel. We feel like we can go in there and get a win.”

After graduating in 2005, Newton went with former EKU coach Travis and was part of the coaching staff at Massachusetts for three seasons. He returned to EKU as an assistant coach in 2008 under coach Jeff Neubauer.

Wiersma spent one season as an assistant coach at Williams before joining the EKU coaching staff in 2010.