Herald-Whig

Trail Blazers relish moments leading to memorable finish

19bsb_John-Wood-vs-Cecil_153
March 21, 2019 - Danville, IL - John Wood head coach Brad Hoyt pleads his team's case after a foul call against one of his players during their NJCAA national tournament semi-final basketball game against Cecil. The Trail Blazers fell 90-88 to the Seahawks in an epic battle on the hardwood on Thursday. (Photo: PhotoNews Media/Clark Brooks)
Clark Brooks
By Herald-Whig
Posted: Mar. 25, 2019 9:40 am Updated: Mar. 25, 2019 11:18 am

As much as Brad Hoyt needed to stay in the moment to ensure the John Wood Community College men's basketball team was adequately prepared for its final game, he tried to see beyond the moment, too.

"I wanted to take that 1,000-foot view," he said.

The Trail Blazers spent Saturday morning at Danville High School going through a shootaround before facing Milwaukee Area Tech in the fifth-place game of the NJCAA Division II national tournament. Hoyt, is his ninth season as the Trail Blazers head coach, treated it like any other shootaround.

He made sure his team was on point and on task.

With that mission complete, it allowed Hoyt to be retrospective.

"I wanted to take a step back and understand that we've had basketball for 27 years at the college, and this is the third best finish we've ever had as a program," Hoyt said after the Trail Blazers lost 85-68 to Milwaukee Area Tech to finish sixth with a 21-15 record. "That's so special. What a cool year."

It's why he smiled when all was said and done.

"I'm beaming with pride," Hoyt said. "I'm smiling remembering the moments."

There are so many of those.

From the ups and downs of November and December to the defensive showcase that led to the Region 24 championship, the Trail Blazers stayed committed to the end goal of qualifying for the national tournament. Even on some of those long rides home from early-season losses to high-level teams, that goal never felt out of reach.

It never does when you believe in something so wholeheartedly.

"This group had trust in each other and faith in each other," said sophomore guard Cory Miller Jr., the Region 24 and Mid-West Athletic Conference co-Player of the Year. "No one ever doubted what we could do. When you buy in for each other, you realize what's possible."

Finding that kind of character isn't easy. Hoyt found it in abundance with this group.

"You want the culture to be defined by the character of the players you bring in," Hoyt said. "We had such a good culture with this group because of their approach. They created success."

They'll be remembered for it, too.

"We had seven guys who played their final game for us," Hoyt said. "I told them they are now alumni of this program. I'm an alumni of this program. I welcomed them to that group."

It's a group that has a unique bond after a unique set of experiences.

"We tried to focus on the practice moments, the game moments, the locker room moments ... and hopefully our guys remember those for a really long time," Hoyt said.

Every one of those moments gives them a reason to smile.

"Absolutely I can smile," Miller said. "I think everybody walked out of the locker room with a smile on their face."