Senior Seahawks reflect on their careers after conclusion vs. Virginia


Calvin Shomaker/The Seahawk

Calvin Shomaker, Copy Editor

ORLANDO, Fla. — When the reality of a season’s end settles in after a close loss on the sport’s biggest stage, a student-athlete and even grown men can be brought to tears, feeling as vulnerable as a child who just had their favorite thing taken from them and can’t get it back.

In the press conference the day before losing to Virginia in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, UNC Wilmington coach Kevin Keatts was asked how he kept out “the noise” through the season and into the postseason. No surprise, Keatts responded by praising his players.

“I say this all the time,” Keatts said, “we literally just concentrate on the next game. We’ve got a weird bunch. I love this group. It’s the best group I’ve ever coached. When they get on the bus or plane, five minutes from the time they get on the plane you don’t even know they’re back there.”

After leading Virginia 26-11 with less than eight minutes left in the first half, the plane ride from Orlando back to Wilmington will be as quiet as any flight has been all season for the Seahawks.

Six combined 3-pointers from seniors Ambrose Mosely and Denzel Ingram had the Seahawks and their fans flying high early on Thursday, but a 19-3 run from Virginia led to a one-point halftime lead that seemed to deflate the energy of all but Chris Flemmings. He came out the second half and scored all of his team-high 18 points in an effort to regain his team the lead by sheer will, though it wasn’t quite enough.

Flemmings and Ingram joined Keatts at the postgame press conference. All three looked as if they had lost their best friend or a pet. Eyes puffy and watery, the three resembled a close-knit family being torn apart and having to say goodbye.

“Just continuing to play hard, stay aggressive and attack and giving us a chance to win,” Flemmings said, working out a few words for the press to explain his second-half surge.

“We just wanted to make shots,” Ingram said of his hot start and 17-point performance. “Came out with energy. It’s a big game. Just got to lock in and be ready to play.”

Keatts had unbuttoned his collar and was no longer wearing his tie. They were a family and goodbye was inevitable, but it is never easy. Answers to questions were short and to the point, all knowing that there is no need to discuss details of the past only to think about what could have been.

“I told them on the way over here, walking over here, I’m so proud of them,” said Keatts. “I love them because they’ve single handedly helped turn this program around, and we’re a championship program now.”

In the locker room after a season-ending loss, a few players are usually lingering to answer questions from adamant reporters. The coaches will be in their office space with the door closed, their hands on knees, replaying the season and its final game in their memories while it’s fresh and still stings.

Most players head straight to the showers or to the bus after a season-ending loss, but the seniors hold on just a bit longer, not wanting to let go or say goodbye, knowing it is the last time they will wear that gold uniform with their school’s teal letters across their chest.

“I remember my freshman year it was like a miracle when we would win games,” said senior forward Chuck Ogbodo, the only player left from the Buzz Peterson era at UNCW. “My sophomore year the program started turning around and then the guys coming in – the transfers and the freshman – they bought in to what the new coach had for us, and the program started changing.”

With Jordon Talley, Devontae Cacok and C.J. Bryce returning, the future looks bright for the UNCW program. But this senior class was special and will be impossible to replace. They’ve helped win three straight regular season Colonial Athletic Association titles, back-to-back conference tournament titles and three-straight postseason berths. They set a record for most wins in school history and have packed out UNCW’s Trask Coliseum all season long, leading the conference in attendance. The culture and tradition of UNCW basketball has changed for better thanks to its four seniors Ambrose Mosely, Denzel Ingram, Chris Flemmings and Chuck Ogbodo.

“I cannot ask for a group of guys that I would call seniors, that I could call leaders, because we led by example,” said Ogbodo. “We didn’t just say it, we showed it. We don’t let anything slide because we want to set an example for the younger guys … I’m excited to see what Devontae, C.J. and the guys can do next year.”

The familial connection will always be there, even after UNCW’s core group has moved on from the program.

“Since we got here, we definitely have been a family,” said Flemmings after taking off his UNCW jersey for the final time. “As a team, everyone has each other’s back through good times and bad, and I think that’s what allowed us to be successful all season long.”