Just like that championship feeling, Dale Wellman wants to keep the national title hardware close to him as long as possible.
“The trophy is about 3 feet from me (in my office),” he said. “Eventually, I might have to put it up so everybody else can see it. But I’m going to keep it here for a while, so I can look at it and have that soak in.”
It is all still soaking in for Coach Wellman and the Nebraska Wesleyan men’s basketball team.
Still soaking in Gatorade and the craziness of it all, one month after the Prairie Wolves’ 78-72 victory over Wisconsin-Oshkosh in the title game.
National champs. Number one. And keep in mind this was an unranked team that had to fight like crazy to make it into the tournament field in the first place.
Go figure. Really. Go figure. Wellman has tried.
“I try to do the math,” he said. “There were 64 teams in the tournament, and 63 lost. How were we not one of the 63 that lost? I’m still a little in shock. But at the same time, I’ve enjoyed every second since that final horn. It’s been a fun ride.”
Loads of fun. Like special treatment at the Final Four in San Antonio. Wellman, the Division III Coach of the Year, got to sit next to Duke star Marvin Bagley at the awards dinner on that Sunday night. He got some sharp threads from Gary Michael’s Clothiers to wear in Texas. He received a nice Tweet from Kentucky coach John Calipari. A big deal for a Lexington boy. That is Wellman’s hometown.
But that was not all from Coach Cal.
“He actually called me on my cell phone,” Wellman said. “I saw the 859 (area code), and I’m familiar with it being from Kentucky, but it was not a number I’m familiar with, so I listen to the voice mail, and was like ‘Oh man, I can’t believe I missed that call.’
“I went to call him back just thinking I could leave a message to thank him. He answered the phone, and we had a good five-minute conversation. He was very genuine and asked me about our (title) run. Growing up in Lexington, it was a pretty cool thing, and I probably acted more like a fan than a colleague many times during that conversation. That was definitely a pretty cool thing.”
It’s all really cool, actually. For the basketball program. For the university.
“Our national title run excited our alums all across the country,” said T.J. McDowell, Jr., a top administrator who oversees athletics at Wesleyan. “Community members with no ties to NWU enthusiastically followed and cheered our journey to the D-III title. The way our team played and conducted themselves on and off the court won us fans in every host site for the tournament.”
And what an incredible experience for Prairie Wolves players like Cooper Cook, whose dad, Kevin, was a star at Wesleyan in the mid-‘80s, and Ryan Garver, who went to Lincoln Northeast, just a basketball’s throw from the Wesleyan campus.
Incredible. All of it.
“I think you have to be good, but for any team to make a run, there has to be a little luck involved,” Wellman said. “The ball has to bounce your way a few times, and fortunately it did.”
And you can keep those calls and letters coming.
“It’s just been really nice to hear from everyone,” he said. “It hasn’t gotten old at all.
“I want to ride this wave as long as possible before it crashes.”