PEMBROKE — The University of North Carolina at Pembroke men’s club club basketball team loves being the underdog.
It’s a role the team takes on at most of the tournaments it attends. Many of its opponents come from Division I schools, and those from outside of North Carolina seldom know where Pembroke is.
Head coach Ronnie Bradley said those factors add fuel to the fire for his team.
“They live off it. They pride themselves on it, and I pride myself on it,” Bradley said.
The players are hoping to make noise this weekend at the National Intramural Recreational Sports Association National Basketball Tournament at Ohio State University. Despite being the only Division II school out of 36 teams participating in the tournament, the team knows it is capable of making a run toward the championship.
UNCP advanced to the final four in the tournament last year before losing to the University of Wisconsin 76-64. Bradley has his team’s sights set on a return to the final four this year, and they could have the talent to pull it off.
One of the newcomers to the team this season is Mike Smith, who played his final season of eligibility with the Braves’ NCAA team last season before transitioning over to the club squad.
Smith, who is expected to graduate in May, is the team’s leading scorer with around 25 points per game.
“Mike is a very hard worker. His work ethic is unmatched,” Bradley said. “When we scrimmage, some of the guys want to take the challenge of guarding Mike.”
The 6-foot guard is a big part of a roster that includes 15 players, including seven returners from last year’s squad. Dupree Potter, who Bradley said has “really stepped up” as a leader, and starting post player Kareem Crawford are among those returners.
Regardless of roles, Bradley said the team’s main objective is to stay united as a family.
“Our motto is we, not me,” Bradley said.
UNCP qualified for nationals by winning the NIRSA Regional Basketball Tournament at East Carolina in March. Bradley, who is assisted by Grover McDonald, said the team has gotten more dedicated to improvement since last season, and that mentality could pay off for them this weekend.
“I feel confident. The guys have worked extremely hard, even on their own time,” Bradley said.
Reach Brandon Tester at 910-816-1989 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @BrandonTester.