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Hampton U's Pirate pride swells with March Madness hopes

Hampton U's Pirate pride swells with March Madness hopes
Hampton University Coach Joyner says he'll need "Jesus on speed dial" when team plays against undefeated No. 1 seed Kentucky.

The whispers began when the team won its conference tournament and spread with the coach's call for divine intervention during a post-game news conference.

The full-throated cheers should reach a crescendo around tipoff Thursday evening when Hampton University's men's basketball team faces perennial powerhouse University of Kentucky on national television in the NCAA tournament.

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The glare of national media exposure and the buzz of playing as the underdog against an undefeated team were palpable on campus Wednesday.

The video clips of the team's synchronized foot stomp on the bench against Manhattan University and the coach's interview antics opened a window on what life is like at the university, students said in a series of on-campus interviews.

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"That's how they've always been throughout the year, and people are just getting to see that," said Brandon Theo Dorsey, a senior broadcast major. "If you've ever seen an interview with the coach, that's exactly how he talks."

HU sits on a 314-acre campus where the Hampton River meets the waters of Hampton Roads. With an enrollment of less than 4,000, students and athletes rub elbows on a daily basis.

Students said seeing their friends and classmates perform well on national television brings excitement and awe.

When a student athlete becomes a topic of praise from sports commentators, it reflects on the whole school, said Devon Bonnick, a senior English major.

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"There's just a sense of pride on campus that we know these guys," he said.

Graduate student Cateatra Mallard believes the small campus size and its HBCU (historically black colleges and universities) heritage creates a family feel among students and faculty. That atmosphere also swirls around the basketball team as it enters the tournament.

The team includes three Peninsula natives — Brian Darden and Breon Key, of Hampton, and Deron Powers of Williamsburg.

"HU's success gives Hampton incredible national exposure that grows exponentially the farther the team goes during March Madness," said Mary L. Fugere, interim director of the Hampton Convention & Visitors Bureau. "It's a great opportunity for Hampton to be recognized as a basketball town."

"We here in Hampton are thrilled to see our hometown team on the national basketball stage again and will be cheering them in their next game," Hampton Mayor George Wallace said.

University Executive Vice President and Provost JoAnn W. Haysbert said staff and students are excited about the possibilities of the Pirates beating the Goliath-like Wildcats.

"Their preparation has come together at the right time and they're playing with a harmony and unity that's really showing," she said. "It's not about how you started, but how you finish."

Dean of Academic Admission Angela Boyd and Athletic Director Eugene Marshall Jr. said the NCAA tournament creates a national exposure for the university that could attract students for athletic and academic reasons who might otherwise not have heard of the school.

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"(Prospective) students are making their final decisions about where to apply and this gives the school a bump," Boyd said. "There's a lot of pride that's built up already here."

Students said they feel alumni from across the nation are raising the Hampton University banner, which resonates back on campus.

2012 Olympic team gold medal winner and Hampton native Francena McCorory attended a Tuesday evening watch party on the campus of her alma mater for the Manhattan game.

DJ Envy, whose real name is Raashaun Casey, is a staunch supporter of his alma mater Hampton University. Wednesday morning, Casey spent a part of the syndicated radio show he co-hosts, "The Breakfast Club," talking about the basketball team.

And students and alumni recall the school's 2001 NCAA tournament appearance, when No. 15 seed Hampton shocked second-seeded Iowa State 58-57 in the tournament's first round.

Hampton eked out a win then, so maybe, just maybe — with divine intervention — it could happen again.

"Win or lose, we'll support our student athletes, and they're still a part of the Hampton family," Haysbert said.

Brauchle can be reached by phone at 757-846-4361.

Hampton University v. University of Kentucky

Time: 9:40 p.m.

Day: Thursday, March 19

Where: KFC Yum Center, Louisville, Ky.

Channel: CBS

Join the conversation on social media: #HamptonNation, #BelieveinHamptonU, #PiratePride

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