NAIA Tournament

Newcomers share the spotlight in NAIA semifinals

LSU Alexandria’s Jordin Williams drove past Westmont’s Sam Bentz and Sean Harman (10) in the first half of the Generals’ 81-61 victory Friday in the NAIA Tournament at Municipal Auditorium.
LSU Alexandria’s Jordin Williams drove past Westmont’s Sam Bentz and Sean Harman (10) in the first half of the Generals’ 81-61 victory Friday in the NAIA Tournament at Municipal Auditorium. kmyers@kcstar.com

The newcomers are taking over the NAIA Tournament.

LSU Alexandria’s basketball program is in just its third season of existence. William Penn (Iowa) University is in its second year of NAIA Division I membership.

And the two newcomers are on a collision course for meeting for the NAIA Tournament championship if they survive Monday night’s semifinals at Municipal Auditorium.

Top-seeded LSU Alexandria (34-0) will face Life (Ga.) University (25-10) at 6 p.m. Monday, followed by William Penn (33-3) vs. Texas Wesleyan (27-7) around 8 p.m. The championship game will be played at 7 Tuesday night.

LSU Alexandria reached the NAIA Tournament in its first two seasons, losing in the first round in 2015 and second round in 2016. William Penn, which moved up to Division I last year after joining the Heart of America Athletic Conference, won two games in the 2016 tournament before losing in the quarterfinals.

It’s all gone according to plan.

“When we were still Division II but knew we were going to Division I, coach (Blake) Sandquist, our chief recruiter, recruited on the D-I level ahead of time,” William Penn coach John Henry said. “We brought some kids in and redshirted them and got them ready.

“At this level, if you land the right transfers and get a good mix of transfers with young kids and you get them all to buy in, special things can happen. Quite honestly, we have a very good model in our state … Iowa State does that. They’ve been doing that since Fred Hoiberg and now Steve Prohm, and play a similar style as well.”

LSU Alexandria, which is bidding to become the first unbeaten team to win an NAIA championship since Oklahoma City in 1992, started totally from scratch. The school had baseball and softball programs before launching basketball and some other sports in 2014-15. The Generals went 23-4 in their first year, and 29-4 last season. Now, they’re bidding to become the first school from Louisiana to win an NAIA Tournament since Willis Reed led Grambling to the 1961 title.

“It takes a lot of hard work and dedication,” said Generals coach Larry Cordaro, whose brother, Martie, is general manager of the Omaha Storm Chasers, the Kansas City Royals’ Class AAA team. “It starts at the top with me, but to have unbelievable assistant coaches who develop these young men on and off the court. …

“It starts in recruiting, and we’ve done a good job of putting some talented players together, and give the players credit for buying into what we’re trying to install here.”

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