Former CHHS player Drew Felix was starting point guard for the Huntingdon Hawks this season and averaged 13.5 points per game.
A tale of two guards
By ROBBY SMITH
Over the past few years, Troy, Ala. has produced some of the best small college basketball talent that doesn’t get the publicity of McDonald’s All-Americans who wind up going to the elite programs in the nation.
The area which has benefited from the obscurity of high school basketball recruiting in Pike County is the City of Montgomery. With players such as former Charles Henderson star Donte Frazier at Faulkner University, Goshen all time leading girls’ scorer Arleshia Lane and former Pike Liberal Arts player Amy Rachel playing for the Huntingdon women’s program, it has produced a pipeline of basketball talent the Troy Highway
hasn’t been seen in several years.
Just when people think it hasn’t stopped, local basketball fans can add three more names to the long list. Huntingdon’s Drew Felix, Josh Behm and walk-on Joey Hollis have been the cornerstones of head coach Buzz Phillips’s rebuilding project involving the revival of the men’s basketball program since its extinction in the late 1970s.
After just starting back the program three years ago, the mission has now been completed!
Despite finishing the regular season with a 7-18 record, the Hawks claimed the National Small College Athletic Association national championship on March 23 in Auburn, Maine to complete a year full of emotional ups and downs for the program.
Felix, Behm and Hollis all join Frazier as Pike Countians who earned small college national championships during March Madness as the Hawks trounced National Christian University of San Antonio, Texas 74-51 on March 23 in the championship game. The win by the Huntingdon men completed a rare double national championship appearance by the small private Capitol City school. The women reached the national title game earlier in the day before losing to The Apprentice (Va.) by the same 74-51 score.
The win by the Hawks’ men’s team capped a fitting end to Phillips’s coaching career, who retired just one week after the tournament was completed. Phillips is currently the new Director of Marketing at Troy State University.
The Hawks earned an at large berth into the field of eight because the NSCAA Selection Committee was overly impressed with Huntingdon’s demanding schedule facing numerous NAIA and Division III schools. While Felix and Behm played major roles in helping the Hawks win the national title, Hollis was unable to make the trip to New England due to having to concentrate on academics despite playing during the regular season.
After losing several close games, Felix said the Hawks viewed the postseason tournament as a fresh start.
"We were going up 0-0 looking at it as a new year," Felix said. "We probably played the toughest regular season schedule of anyone up there going up against (defending NAIA national champion) Faulkner and Southern Tech. We felt like the schedule would help us and that’s why we accepted the bid."
In the first game, the Hawks entered as the number seven seed facing host school Central Maine Tech. In what as considered a major upset, the Hawks pulled out a
thrilling 62-58 victory
in front of a partisan CMT crowd. Felix, who averaged 13.5 points per game as the point guard this year, was held to just three points in one of worst shooting nights of the season.
However, Felix said the only thing which concerned him was the final outcome on the scoreboard.
"It was kind of odd because we lost a big (16 point) lead," Felix said. "But it definitely helped us winning a close game like that. It will help us to be able to pull them out in the future, giving us the confidence to hang in there and do what we need to do."
Like in the case of all championship teams, defense is always the key to success. Behm, who was usually known as the sixth man for being the first major contributor to come off the bench as a shooting guard, said Huntingdon’s aggressive defense allowed the Hawks to prevail throughout the tournament despite their lack of overall size.
"We gave up leads, but our defense really allowed us to hold on," Behm said. "We played a lot of man-to-man defense. I thought our speed, quickness and help side defense really helped us out a lot. We also blocked out and rebounded well."
The March 22 semifinal game resembled a track meet as the Hawks knocked off number six seed Bunker Hill Community College of Boston 97-93. Bunker Hill, who played a similar type of basketball to Arkansas, rallied from a 20 point lead before Huntingdon held on at the end as Felix scored 30 points in one of his best shooting performances of the season which followed his worst output the day before against Central Maine Tech.
Behm said Felix’s ability to step up on both sides in two different types of games allowed the Hawks to advance to the national championship game.
"I think everyone was a little nervous," Behm said. "But I thought Drew really stepped up in both games. That was the key for our title run."
However, the championship game was a different story as the Hawks opened up a 23 point halftime lead and never looked back against NCU. Felix scored 19 points in the championship game as he was named Most Valuable Player of the tournament. At the same time, Felix was honored for his regular season performance by being named NSC First Team All-American.
Felix, who considers himself a team player, said he was humbled for the individual honor.
"It was surprising to hear my name called at the (tournament) banquet," Felix said. "But all of the hard work and help from my teammates made it worth it."
In the championship game, Felix scored 19 points as the Hawks led from start to finish. NSC was only able to cut a 23 point halftime deficit as close as 16 points in the second half. Felix said everything clicked for the Hawks at just the right time.
"In the first half, we were as good as we’ve been all year because we shot the ball really well," Felix said. "Everything really snowballed in our favor for us."
By winning the NSCAA national championship, Behm said the Hawks were able to prove a lot of people even in their own backyard wrong.
"Obviously everyone was excited because we won, especially knowing we were the seventh seed out of eight teams," Behm said. "People didn’t think we would win many games. But we proved people wrong because of the schools we played proving we were a legitimate team. I think the feeling is positive because this year was a struggle. We didn’t have a good regular season, but we played good enough competition to get us ready for the tournament. Regardless of the (regular season) records, people up here are excited about the national title. Everyone around campus is pretty excited about it."
Felix said was very impressed by Behm’s improvement in his individual game last season.
"Josh had a solid year because he gave us good minutes off the bench," Felix said. "He played very well in Maine for us being the third leading scorer in the tournament and he got better during the season."
Despite both players not going to the same schools while growing up in Troy, Felix said Behm and him have become very close since moving to Montgomery. Both players plan to room with each other next season.
"Josh and I have become really good friends over the last two years even though I didn’t know him in high school," Felix said. "We’re best buds."
As far as preparing for the 2002 regular season is concerned, Felix said there’s plenty of room for improvement as he
enters his junior year.
"I need to continue to work on getting stronger and try to work on penetration," Felix said. "I must work on the small things that people don’t always see on the floor."
With the success he’s achieved this season, Felix said he credits his former high school coach Carl Hollis for his preparation and work ethic.
"I think he really helped because we were prepared to come out of high school," Felix said. "He practiced us as hard as anybody. He had us ready to go where we could handle the workouts of any college coach. He came to see us play because Joey was on the team. Before each season he had us in the weight room and making us lift really helped us. It’s carried over from high school."
As far as his former college coach is concerned, Behm said he wasn’t surprised Phillips decided to leave to come to TSU.
"Coach Phillips told us earlier in the year he was offered a couple of jobs and he wouldn’t know until the end of the season," Behm said. "It wasn’t like it was a shock to us. Coach recruited me and got the program started after it was cancelled in the 1970s. We’re appreciative of him for giving us a chance. We’re glad to give him a national title before he left."
A replacement for Phillips will not be named until sometimes later in the summer.
As far as winning the national title with one of his former high school teammates in the same year is concerned, Felix said it’s a great feeling.
It’s kind of ironic both of us won national titles in the same year," Felix said. "It was very awesome. It’s fitting both of us had good years and nice to know one of my best friends won the national title."