Senior starters Ivan Aska, Jewuan Long and Donte Poole will lace up and run on the court for their final home game at 5 p.m. Saturday against No. 16/21 (ESPN/AP) Saint Mary’s for Sears 10th Annual BracketBusters game airing on ESPN, commentated by the legendary Dick Vitale and in front of a sellout crowd.
With a pre-game ceremony in the works to honor the three seniors, Murray State (24-1, 12-1 Ohio Valley Conference) Head Coach Steve Prohm isn’t concerned about his players being emotional before the already big game as much as he is someone else.
“I’m worried about me because I’ve known these guys four or five years and this is tough,” Prohm said. “These guys have been great for me to have as my first year, to have these guys with this kind of character and leadership. We’ll be fine once the buzzer sounds. It’ll be a good game – Saint Mary’s is really, really good. It’ll be a good atmosphere and after the first five minutes, whether we get up eight or they get up eight, it’ll all settle down.”
The rookie coach, known for his soft-spoken temperament and love-induced leadership, spoke highly of his senior players.
“When you’re a first year head coach, and I’ll say this to anybody, and you’re able to have three seniors with the character, leadership and toughness of Donte Poole, Jewuan Long and Ivan Aska, then you’re going to have a chance to have a tremendous year,” Prohm said. “Those guys have been the rock for this team and I can’t be more proud of them.”
The seniors have three consecutive championships to their name and if they win against Saint Mary’s it will be their 100th win and they will become the all-time winningest class in Murray State history, a title previously held by the 1999-2000 class with 99 wins.
“I don’t know how many wins they’re going to end up with, I hope it’s over 100 because that means we’ve won a conference championship and played in the post season and done some really good things,” Prohm said. “But when you walk out of here as the all-time winningest class, and hopefully they will, and you walk out with three consecutive championships that speaks volumes.”
Saturday’s game is the second consecutive senior night the Racers have played and the next two games will also be their opposition’s senior nights.
“It’s amazing how this schedule works, it’s out of your hands,” Prohm said. “You look at teams getting whole weeks off a couple different times and you look at four-straight senior days, and one of them is ours so you take that out of the equation, but we’ve got three straight senior days and that’s tough. That’s the cards we’re dealt with so we need to get out there and take care of business.”
Aska is mentally and emotionally preparing the big night.
“I’ve been thinking about it,” Aska said. “Just knowing it’s going to be my last time playing at home with Donte and Jewuan and the rest of the players and Coach Prohm – I’m going to make the best of it out of it. My family is going to be there and my niece and nephew and they’re going to be excited so it’s a big moment for me. I’m going to enjoy it and go all out like I’ve been doing but I’m going to turn it up another notch. That’s my last time playing so I might as well go out with a bang.”
Despite his 6-foot-7 frame, the humble Aska is anticipating a wave of emotions to hit.
“It’s going to be emotional with everything,” Aska said. “I just have to grab myself together and my team and grab together with them and do everything we can to execute and get a win.”
Long also expects the evening to be emotional.
“It seems like it’s gone by so fast, for me it’s been five years,” Long said. “I’ve had a lot of ups and downs since I’ve been here and it’s crazy we have one last night for all of us, me, Donte and Ivan, our last time playing and I hope it won’t be too emotional.”
Saturday’s game will mark the first time Murray State has played a ranked team since defeating then No. 21 Memphis on Dec. 11 and earning its first ranking in 13 years Dec. 12.
“Hopefully it will be a happy ending with a win in front of Dickie V.” Long said. “Us three, I don’t think we could go out any better than we are. It’s been a special year for us, I don’t think too many teams will get to go out like we’re going out.”