N.C. A&T Aggies aim to be the rare team that goes from last to first in consecutive seasons
Play of Femi Olujobi and better chemistry has the men’s basketball team tied for first in the MEAC headed into season finale
There aren’t many teams that have gone from worst to first in consecutive seasons. The 2008 Boston Celtics, 1999 St. Louis Rams and 2009 New Orleans Saints did it, and now the North Carolina A&T men’s basketball team is looking to join this select group.
After a 3-29 record last season in which the Aggies won only one game against an NCAA Division I opponent, North Carolina A&T now has the best overall record in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) at 18-12 and is currently in a five-way tie for first place in the conference standings.
Redshirt junior forward and Oakland University transfer Femi Olujobi was forced to sit out last season because of NCAA rules, but he saw firsthand the struggles of the team. Now that he is able to play, he has been one of the main contributors to the Aggies’ success.
“This year we all have a common goal in mind. From day one, we all knew that we wanted to not only compete for a championship but also change the culture of the program,” said Olujobi.
Olujobi, who at one point this season led the NCAA in scoring, has certainly done his part. The Long Island, New York, native and liberal studies major is averaging 16.9 points and 7.6 rebounds in 25 games this season.
While his individual performance is a huge reason for the turnaround, Olujobi said the team’s chemistry is integral to its success.
“We spent a lot more time with each other than we did the year before. We got to learn each other a lot better,” said Olujobi. “Chemistry, work ethic and buying into each other and the coaching staff is what helped us get to where we are now.”
Redshirt senior guard Denzel Keyes agreed with Olujobi about the team’s new bond. Keyes returned to the court this year for the Aggies after breaking his foot in pursuit of an NFL career as a wide receiver.
“We just got a whole different vibe this year. Everybody is trying to play and everyone is supporting each other,” said Keyes. “We feed off each other’s energy. When one person gets hype, it’s like a chain reaction.”
That has not only revitalized the team but also energized a fan base hungry to see winning basketball again at A&T. The Corbett Sports Center, where the Aggies play their home games, is now being deemed “Club Corbett. ” It has provided a significant home-court advantage for a team battling to regain prominence in the MEAC.
“The energized atmosphere of Club Corbett has made supporting the basketball team this semester such an exciting experience,” said Amina Bradley, a sophomore biology student from Long Island. “Because everyone is so pumped up, it makes you want to see the team do well.”
The Aggies have not won the MEAC tournament championship since 2013, which consequently was the last time the Aggies played in the NCAA tournament. The Aggies defeated the Liberty Flames 73-72 that season to earn their first and only tournament championship.
However, after being picked to finish dead last in the MEAC preseason rankings, the Aggies now have a legitimate chance to complete one of the best comeback stories in the nation by capturing another MEAC title and NCAA tournament berth.
“This could be one of the greatest turnarounds in college basketball history,” said Olujobi. “To go from one of the worst teams in college basketball to one of the best … words can’t even explain what that would mean.”
The Aggies close the regular season Thursday at North Carolina Central and begin play in the conference tournament next week in Norfolk, Virginia.