Murray State, the only undefeated men’s basketball team in the country, is not slowing down, backing down or looking down.
Instead, the Racers (20-0, 8-0) are keeping their eyes up.
Those two words have become a frequent hashtag on Murray State Coach Steve Prohm’s Twitter before and after games and has become a team mantra.
Inspiration for coaching comes from a variety of places for the first year coach who most recently used a lesson from the Bible to illustrate the mantra for his 20-0 team.
“There’s a passage in the Bible about Gideon in the book of Judges, Judges 7, and it’s a story on Gideon and taking his troops into battle,” Prohm said.
The story continues as God tells Gideon to decrease the number of his troops taken into battle from 22,000 to 300 by taking the soldiers to water and choosing the 300 based on how they drank.
“Whichever ones lapped up the water like a dog, don’t take them because they are out of control and wild,” Prohm paraphrased. “But the ones who drink the water with their eyes up and at a good pace, very steady and very focused, those are the 300 you’re going to take, so that’s where (‘eyes up’) comes from.”
The team (No. 9 ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll and No. 11 AP) uses the phrase to stay focused.
“It means just keep focused on the straight path, don’t get sidetracked don’t look to your left, don’t look to your right, just keep straight,” returning senior forward Ivan Aska said. “Just stay as a family, stick together, trust the system and if everybody plays their role we’re going to be fine.”
The team has set numerous records this season including the best start for a rookie coach as well as the best start and longest winning streak in Murray State history and senior guard Jewuan Long said he admires the way Prohm coaches.
“He’s done a good job,” Long said. “Such as the eyes up story and for every game he has a different story, whether it’s another NCAA basketball team or a story in the Bible, to keep us humble and to relate it to our lives and basketball and he does a good job showing us how it can happen to us if we don’t keep doing a good job staying humble.”
Senior guard Donte Poole said Prohm’s relationship with God shines through his leadership and desire for the team to become leaders on and off the court.
“He gave us all leadership handbooks at the beginning of the year,” Poole said. “There’s verses in there about everything, being a leader, maturing, becoming a man, and he always has a quote or something for us and it’s just great. He always tells us he’s not the most holy person but he always wants us to push ourselves and pushes us to the limit that he knows we should be at.”
Prohm was hired as head coach in May after serving as an assistant for 13 years including five seasons at Murray State under former coach Billy Kennedy.
“I was mentored by coach Kennedy and from working with him I was challenged to grow in my faith,” Prohm said. “I’m not perfect by any means, I’ve got a long way to go but with the situation I’m in, just like Jesus Christ, you have a platform to lead other people and that’s the position I’m in with the basketball program at Murray State. I’m a leader in the community and a leader here on campus and I need to, in my daily interactions and my decisions each and every day being the leader of this program, make decisions that influence people and help people whether it’s my players or people in this community.”
Despite its perfect season, the team isn’t focused on records.
“We don’t think about it much, to be honest,” Prohm said. “We talk about it briefly, but the only thing we’re talking about is winning the next game and that’s why we talk about eyes up. Another buddy of mine told me about ‘I’m doing a great work and I don’t want to come down.’ What that talks about is when Nehemiah was rebuilding the wall in Jerusalem and people were trying to take him away from doing that and get his mind on other things, he told them, ‘I’m doing a great work and I’m not coming down,’ and I told our guys that the other day: we’re doing great things and don’t let anyone take you down off this wall.”
Poole agreed with his coach.
“You can’t get caught up in personal accolades or people talking about your team so highly because you don’t want to become complacent,” Poole said. “I think that’s a downfall of people who become successful, they get successful and they either forget what they’ve done to get to that point or they think that they’ve done enough so they relax and I think once you relax that’s when you lose or that’s when things start going bad for you.
“So I just think you have to stay grounded to what you’ve been born to do so we’ve been built to be a team, be together, always work hard, be the toughest team, dominate defensively and we’ve got to continue to do those things and the moment we start forgetting one thing or letting people come in and do this or start letting people influence our team, we’ll lose.”