Many benefits of playing college sports are intangible, from learning discipline, sacrifice and dedication to how to work in a team environment. The players on the men’s basketball team at Thomas Nelson now have a tangible reward to chase: a trophy.
The program recently joined the New South Athletic Conference (NSAC) beginning with the 2020-21 season. Head Coach Chris Moore and Interim Athletics and Intramurals Coordinator Angela Jackson said it’s great for the players and the College.
“It gives us an opportunity to have a postseason,” said Moore, noting the champion will be awarded a trophy at the conclusion of the conference tournament next February.
Mike Davis, the athletics director at Blue Lights College in Apex, N.C., reached out to Moore in March. Davis had been working on a conference plan for about two years because his school was in the same situation as Thomas Nelson with no postseason. Other colleges in the NSAC are Blue Lights College, Carolina Christian College (Winston-Salem, N.C.), Hosanna Bible College (Durham, N.C.) and Virginia University of Lynchburg. Davis, also commissioner of the new league, said in a press release he hopes more schools will be added soon.
There were few obligations on Thomas Nelson’s part, according to Moore. The Gators must play other teams in the conference, and players must be full-time students (at least 12 credit hours a semester) in good academic standing. Jackson said there was a small $200 fee to join the league, but that goes toward the conference tournament at the end of the season.
Moore and Jackson hope the affiliation leads to the program eventually joining the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA), of which Thomas Nelson’s baseball and women’s basketball teams are members.
“The ultimate goal is be in the NJCAA, which gives the school national exposure. It will help with recruiting. It will help bring students into the school,” Moore said. “It might bring some money back to the school as well.”
But the benefits don’t end there. Moore said NJCAA membership would allow Thomas Nelson to connect with more four-year schools.
“It will be easier for these students to go from the NJCAA to the NCAA because they’re connected,” he said.
The Gators, who previously didn’t have a conference affiliation, had been playing other community college programs in Virginia and surrounding states.
A conference affiliation wasn’t the only recent good news for the program.
Moore announced four players from this year’s squad have signed to play at four-year colleges.
“It shows how much this (program) is growing,” said Moore, who has coached the team the past two seasons.
Moving on are Amari Aklin (The Apprentice School), Vincent Collins (University of Rio Grande in Ohio), Hunter Ladler (Ferrum), and Titus Lawrence (Great Lakes Christian College in Michigan). In addition, the coach said Josh Moore is scheduled to join the Apprentice program for the 2021-22 season.
“Every kid that I’ve recruited and that I’ve brought in, I bring them in with high hopes of them wanting to go on to four-year universities,” Coach Moore said. “The reason being, I think when kids have a goal of furthering their education, they come in with a higher standard. And it gives them something to work for when they’re at Thomas Nelson.”
However, it’s not all about basketball.
“The kids I’ve tried to recruit as a whole, I want them all to go on to get their four-year education. I want them to achieve more,” he said. “I tell kids I want Thomas Nelson to be just a portion of (their) journey.”
From now on, that journey includes a postseason tournament and quite possibly a trophy.