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Grace Christian University men’s basketball claims national championship

Associate head coach Dan George cuts down the net. Courtesy photo.

By Judy Reed

Grace Christian University (GCU) won its eighth DII Men’s Basketball National Championship in dramatic fashion last Saturday, March 9, in Greenville, South Carolina, as Kellum Bridgeforth hit the game-winning 3-point shot with 5.5 seconds left in overtime. The Tigers defeated No. 4 seeded and Mideast Region foe Great Lakes Christian College by the score of 84-83. Bridgeforth finished with 21 points and 7 rebounds, while Brandon Winchester-Jones had 18 points, 5 assists, and 4 rebounds in the win.

In their first round game, the No. 2 seeded Tigers defeated No. 7 Bob Jones University 74-52. Leading the way was Brandon Winchester-Jones with 14 points, 6 rebounds, and 5 assists, along with Caleb Anderson who tallied 14 points and 3 assists. The Tigers then defeated No. 3 Johnson University Tennessee in the semifinals. In the 75-51 win, Austin Jackson had 13 points and 6 rebounds, while Adam Kregal finished with 10 points and 7 rebounds.

Head Coach Gary Bailey (second from the right) and Associate Head Coach Dan George (third from left) with the Grace Christian University men’s basketball team. Courtesy photo.

GCU’s Kellum Bridgeforth was named Tournament Most Outstanding Player as he averaged 13 points and 5 rebounds per game. See a complete list of awards, including All-Tournament Team, All-Americans, Scholar-Athletes, and more at https://thenccaa.org/sports/2018/8/28/DII_MBB_Awards_2019.aspx.

The team previously won national championships in: DIIA: 1994, 1995; and DII: 2006, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012. The last six (including this year) were with current head coach and Cedar Springs resident Gary Bailey and associate head coach Dan George, of Cedar Springs, who is also the current CTA Superintendent. 

“Every year we think we have an opportunity to do well in the tournament,” said Bailey. “I’m talking about the summer before basketball even starts. We really felt like we had the talent and the guys work ethic was really good. It is always important to be playing your best basketball at the end of the year. I felt like we were doing that. With seven seniors on our squad and seven juniors, we knew we had great leadership. This one hasn’t really sunk in yet because it has been a whirlwind in the last 48 hours. I am just very happy for our players and the students at staff at Grace Christian University. “

Bailey and George have a long history of playing and coaching basketball together. George was Bailey’s college coach and, in 2005 when Bailey became head coach at Grace, he asked George to help him. 

“He asked me to come help him for what was supposed to be a one year gig. I agreed and now we find ourselves completing year 14. It’s been a great ride,” said George. 

“I should add that Cedar Springs legend Nick Wolfe joined our staff as an assistant coach 2 years ago. He and assistant coach Lee Ash, who joined 4 years ago, have made a great impact,” noted George.

Under the helm of Bailey and George, the team has made it to the Final Four on 4 additional occasions; qualified for the national tournament 13 out of the 14 years; and won 11 regional championships during that time. They were also runner up in the national championship game once. 

Bailey has earned several honors during that time: named NCCAA National Coach of the Year in 2009 and 2010; Regional Coach of the Year eight times; Basketball Coaches of Michigan College Coach of the Year (2011); All-time Winningest Coach at Grace Christian University (315); Grace Christian Athletic Hall of Fame; 69 consecutive NCCAA wins 2008-12; and more. 

“It takes many things to win a national championship at any level,” explained George. “Preparation, skill, team depth, effort, and having the ball take the right bounces come to mind readily. But how you respond when the ball doesn’t take the right bounces may be more telling and that is when you can rely on experience and character to deal with those bad bounces. 

“Certainly, the three point shot by our freshman, Kellum Bridgeforth, with 5 seconds left, proved to be the winning basket but I believe it was Gary’s external calmness and focus on what was in our control in the face of two no calls by the official at the end of regulation and near the end of the game that were crucial to the outcome. I’ve been with him long enough to know he was probably seething inside but the players never knew it. He was respectful to the officials and he immediately turned the team’s focus to the task at hand. There are many things wrong in the world of sports but there are also coaches who run clean programs and do it right. I’ve always admired that in Gary. He would sacrifice a game, and even a national championship, to do it the right way. That’s why he’s a winner, and that’s why we have a winning program.”

Thank you to Grace Christian University for the use of their photo and recap of the game.

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