While the South Carolina Warriors weren’t happy with the way their season ended, there were plenty of positives to go around.
A second straight trip to the Final Four in as many seasons of existence. A 30-2 record. A home winning streak that ballooned to 52 games without a loss in two seasons of existence. Several players earning opportunities internationally. A sense of finding a permanent place in the community.
And those were just the big ones to look back on after the season ended in a 113-110 loss to the North Dallas Vandals in the ABA semifinals in Jacksonville last week.
“We lost a lot of players who moved up. We pulled in other chemistry to go with what we already had,” Warriors coach John Kefalas said. “It’s a great season. It’s a good bunch of kids. We played through a lot of adversity but all in all it was a great season. I think we’ve accomplished a lot.”
However, they came short of an ABA title for the second season. The Warriors lost to the host Jacksonville Giants in the best-of-three finals in their inaugural season. They were unable to get another shot at the Giants upon losing a back-and-forth game with the Vandals where they trailed by more than 20 in the first half, led by double figures in the second half and wound up losing by a bucket.
Yet the sting from the loss was more from the fact the Warriors felt they weren’t given a fair shot. The Giants topped the Vandals on Sunday to win the finals 2-0.
“We lost two games the whole year and they both were in Florida. It was very difficult to get over the hump,” said Kefalas, whose team lost at Jacksonville in the regular season. “During the game we probably had 10 or 11 plays in transition where they stopped the clock for malfunctions – which is highly unusual. We made baskets and they gave them to the opponent and we had to call timeout and go to the scorer’s table to get it fixed. I’ve never experienced that in my 49 years of coaching. It was just awful.
“In the end when they got close to us the fouling was incredible; it was only going one way – against us.”
Said former Coastal Carolina standout Mario Edwards: “The thing about this league and the way it works since I’ve been a part of it, the Jacksonville team is pretty much favored to win every year. The league kind of takes their side. I feel like maybe we didn’t get a fair chance to compete equally on a level.”
Conspiracy or not, the Warriors were headed back to the beach Sunday without another game to play this season. Kefalas says the franchise is in good shape and he and the Warriors plan on remaining a staple in the community.
“We’ve only been here two seasons and gained some fans real fast. I think it’s great that we started this whole thing,” said Edwards, who played stints with the team in both seasons when he wasn’t playing internationally. “We’re definitely headed in the right direction. Coach took it to a another level this year and I think he’ll get it to an even higher level.”
Like a year ago, it’s uncertain as to which players will be back. However, the Warriors have been used to players coming and going as they get other opportunities.
“Seeing last year to this year is pretty cool,” said Jon Pack, who was a senior at Coastal Carolina in the franchise’s inaugural year. “A bunch of the guys like [former CCU standouts] Jo [Harris] and Jack [Leasure] and Mario were here so it’s cool to see the fans come out to watch us. They were really good this year. We just need to continue to get more and more fans come out and support us. Going to Jacksonville was good eye-opener to see how [their community] supports the team.”
The team has had plenty of success on the court, but players feel they are benefitting off it as well. That has helped the team attract quality players when others leave.
“Not including the basketball part, it’s an opportunity to meet new friends from new places. With coach, he opened up opportunities for us to help us in life. It’s good overall,” said former Appalachian State standout Don Hughes. “I was really excited to get down here.”
On the court, though, the Warriors will have to wait until next season to chase a championship. Everyone involved is confident South Carolina will again be in the mix next season.
“I’m sure next year we’ll be back in the same situation,” Edwards said of making it the Final Four. “Next year hopefully we’ll come back with a championship.”
Contact DAVID WETZEL at 626-0295.