By John Goralski
Preston Beverly looked back over his shoulder with quiet satisfaction as his Lincoln College New England men’s basketball team raced for the locker rooms at halftime. It wasn’t his team’s five point lead that brought a smile to the athletic director/coach. It was the swarm of kids from the Bristol Boys and Girls Club that flooded onto the Bristol Eastern basketball court with a small group of college students.
Beverly’s team has surged out to a 4-2 record in the opening weeks of the winter season. The Wildcats have already toppled a nationally ranked program, and their two losses have come by a grand total of three points. Lincoln fans have had a lot of things to cheer about in the early season, but it’s the total package that has Beverly smiling at halftime.
For the first time in years, it feels like the little known sports team has finally found a home.
“On the weekends, we were able to get in here [at Bristol Eastern] so that we can try to build that sense of community,” he said. “We do a lot of work here and in Southington. We wanted to find some place closer to play. We had some kids here today from the Bristol Boys and Girls Club, and it’s been great.”
Lincoln College is a division three school in the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA), and the athletic director is trying to build them into something that the region can be proud about. Without a facility at the school, the athletic programs have already had to reach out to the community, and that’s helped Beverly to set the foundation for community involvement.
“It’s something that I’ve always wanted to do. When I was in high school, I used to volunteer hours at the boys and girls club. When I was in college, we did a lot of community work. When I came here, I really wanted to give that whole-istic view to our athletes,” he said. “They’re doing well in the classroom. We’ve set up mandatory study halls, and we want them to give back to the community that they’re in. We have some kids from Ohio or Florida, but at the end of the day they are Connecticut residents. They have to give back to the community they’re in.”
So the bus load of kids from the local boys club were a welcome addition to the Saturday afternoon double header. The team practices at the boys club, and that helped to create some relationships. The team still plays its weekday games at Courtside Athletic Club in Harwinton, but on Saturday and Sunday games the school has been able to partner with Bristol Eastern.
Beverly hopes that it can help draw public interest to his up-and-coming team. After all, the Wildcats are only one of two junior college teams in the state. They include a number of former varsity players from Connecticut and a wide array of talent from across the country.
It has allowed the team to continue to build upon their recent successes. In the past few seasons, the team has been able to win tournament titles. Twice, they’ve qualified for the postseason tournament. Now, Beverly thinks that they are about to turn the corner again.
“Come to one of our games. I think if you come, you’ll have total buy in,” he said. “We’ve got some great kids from all over that are just hard working kids. If you want to see that, along with some good college basketball for free, come on down and check us out.”
The proof is in the level of play. On Saturday, the Wildcats took on Quinsigamond Community College, a school with over 2,000 students in Worcester, Mass., but the Southington team matched them point for point in the first half before going on a small spurt at the end to take a 43-38 lead into the break.
Beverly shuffled 12 different players onto the court with six players in double digits as the Wildcats battled against their conference rivals. Jalen David led the way with 16 points and eight rebounds. Jordan Taylor added 13 points. Kojo Lockhart (7 rebounds, 5 assists) and Michael Campbell (5 rebounds) chipped in a dozen points apiece, while Chris Brown and Kyre Jackson contributed 10 points apiece.
With 10 minutes to go in the game, Lincoln trailed by two points. With five minutes to go, the Wildcats had clawed their way to a double-digit lead. When the dust settled, the Wildcats celebrated an 85-79 victory over their northern rivals.
“It’s spurtablility, and we have that,” Beverly said. “In so many close games, it really only comes down to one or two possessions. We have the ability to knock down some threes. We have post players that can finish inside and get ‘and-ones.’ It really just comes down to limiting them to one shot and having a real team effort.”
The victory capped their second 2-0 week of the early season, and it was their first home game of the season. It came on the heels of a 78-55 win over Bunker Hill Community College on Tuesday, Nov. 14 that snapped a two-game losing streak.
Once again, the Wildcats showed a balanced attack with 12 different players contributing to the victory. Jackson paced the offense with 17 points. Chris Austin had 10 points and five assists. Taylor (9 points, 7 rebounds) and Dairyon Davis (7 points) contributed. Every player scored. Eight players earned assists. The defense held Bunker Hill to just 24.6 percent shooting, and Lincoln rallied to a 78-55 win.
“It comes down to the hard work of all our players,” said Beverly. “We have a great group of kids from all over, and it’s that fight. I really think that, at the end of the season when we’re looking back on all this, we have the ability to be in every game. That’s really what I want from them and what I want them to want for themselves.”
So far, everyone’s a winner.
To comment on this story or to contact sports writer John Goralski, email him at jgoralski@southingtonobserver. com.