By Alex Kypfer, sports editor, North Lake News-Register
Of the 134 teams in Division III of the NJCAA, North Lake College earned first place. It's been a nine-year wait, but the Blazers won NLC's third national trophy.
With a 66-56 win over Elgin Community College (Illinois), the men’s Blazers basketball team won its third national championship.
“We’re just thankful,” said Head Coach Tim McGraw. “There were a lot of close games that could have gone other ways, but I’m just proud of our kids. They didn’t give up.”
Freshman guard Ayo Dada led the scoring charge with a team high of 16 points, while shooting 50 percent from the field and grabbing four rebounds. Sophomore forward Dare Brazeal notched a double-double with 11 points and a team high of 12 rebounds. Freshman forward Josh Harris had a good all-around game off the bench with 10 points, four rebounds, three assists and a team high three steals. Dada took home tournament MVP honors while averaging 14.3 points per game, five rebounds per game, four assists per game and three steals per game.
Brazeal and Harris both made the All-Tournament Team as some of the top performers. McGraw was named the “Gary S. Cole Coach of the Tournament.”
“It was a super year. I’m happy for the kids,” said McGraw, who has taken home the trophy three times now. “When you win, you realize how fun it is and how wonderful it is to do it.”
Over the last 21 years, a team from the same conference as North Lake’s has won the national tournament nine times.
“The hardest part of winning a national tournament is getting there,” said McGraw. “There were plenty of years that I felt we were good enough, but we didn’t get past our conference teams.
"Through that, you learn to appreciate when it does happen because you had so many other times you got close and it didn’t happen.”
Now that the season is over, McGraw has a little bit of time to rest before he goes into full recruiting mode.
“We will have three or four kids back that helped us,” said McGraw. “Plus we will bring in some transfers and as early as it is we already have some good commitments.”
Until then, McGraw has a few minor problems to worry about. “The kids ask me almost every day, ‘Hey, coach, when do we get our rings?’” said McGraw.
“We just won and they really think their rings are going to be here tomorrow, those silly boys.”