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story.lead_photo.caption - Photo by Patric Flannigan

— By PATRIC FLANNIGAN

Sports editor

The inaugural season of SAU Tech Rocket basketball has come and gone, but its safe to say the program is ‘rocketing’ in the right direction.

With a new facility, a winning record for both the Rockets and Lady Rockets team and an intimidating reputation, SAU Tech is looking to build off of what has been an immediate success.

SAU Tech Head Men’s Basketball Coach Marty Levinson and SAU Tech Womens’ Basketball Coach Andre Williams served as guest speakers at the Camden Kiwanis Club recently. SAU Tech Athletic Director and Vice Chancellor of Student Services David McCleane also attended the meeting. The Rocket staff gave a summary of what the 2018-2019 season and shared recruiting and facility updates with the club.

The coaches were invited by Kiwanian Mike Smith who emphasized the “exciting brand of basketball” the Rockets and Lady Rockets play.

Williams didn’t take over the Lady Rockets until around the summer time when most other teams had already starting preparing for the upcoming season. Not only did Williams have to recruit, but he also had to build a bond with his team in a shorter amount of time than other coaches had. Williams said his players believed they could win and that was one of the main reason for its success. Before he knew it, the team had stated the season 5-0 and finished 11-6 and second place in conference. The team also produced the No. 2 three point percentage student athlete in the nation with Brandaishia Hargraves.

Williams announced that academics is one of his main focuses and that he was happy to share that three of his players are set to graduate - one being a freshman. He also shared that he has three players coming in from Little Rock Mills and another from Bryant, all but one of the student athletes are over 6’1.

“These are girls that have a D1 body, but just need more reps and training,” Williams said. The goal is to recruit five more with a lot of tenacity and a will to work.”

McCleane then spoke briefly about the job the coaches did and recognized Williams for accomplishing so much in such a little amount of time.

“I want to make sure he gets the credit he deserves,” McCleane stated. “He put in the hours and dedication and it was amazing to see how much his team improved from their first practice.”

When asked what could be done to support the basketball program besides financially, Williams told the club members to come to the games.

Levinson then spoke about the importance of building a relationship with the players as well.

“Sometimes we lose track of what it really is,” Levinson explained. “These are young people. We are dealing with kids. A lot of them are from out of state. Some of them don’t even have drivers license. So if you guys took time to have a conversation with any of my guys, you’d be surprised by how polite they are... They are at a critical point in their lives where they are vulnerable because they are so young. Once we get them comfortable with who they are and they build a relationship with a community that loves them, special things can happen.”

SAU Tech played its home games at the Shaddock Field House this season but will play on the campus of SAU Tech next season. A new gym floor has been installed in the Student Center. They also talked about how teams started dropping off their schedules when they saw how good SAU Tech was.

Levinson and Williams both shared their excitement of the new location and said it was beautiful.

Levinson said that conference games will be on Saturdays between January and February and that he thinks the first games will be on Nov. 2 during the SAU Tech Tip Off Classic.

Levinson praised SAU Tech for how much it cares about the student athletes and incorporating the community. He talked about how the connection between a player and a fan can turn into a family. He said that he’s seen cases where a kid comes into a different environment to play ball and ends up playing golf with fans and then the fans support that player by showing up wherever he transfers of for that player’s graduation. He added that there is an “army of people” at SAU Tech that are guiding the students to success.

“Extracurricular activities save lives,” Levinson shared. “When I accepted this job I was overwhelmed but I knew I was going to be putting 30 kids in college. Now the softball program is getting started. That’s awesome for south Arkansas. Parents are going to get to stay home to watch their girls play in college.”

The Rockets finished the season in first place in conference with a 19-10 overall record. Levinson said recruiting wise, he is searching for a selfless, pass-first guard, two 5’s - one rangy and athletic that can jump and another with size that can score on the block - and a long wing that can guard every position..

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