The Promised Land Is Part Of Gillian's Longwood Legacy

Published 3:00 pm Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Moses never reached the Promised Land.

But he made sure his team got there.

The same can be said of Mike Gillian's 10 years coaching men's basketball at Longwood University. LU announced Coach Gillian's resignation last week, less than a week after the very, very young team showed up impressively at its first-ever Big South Conference Tournament following a season of gathering strength during its inaugural schedule of conference games.

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Next year will see the Lancers continue making impressive strides with the youngsters recruited by Coach Gillian, though he will not be coaching on the sidelines in Farmville.

Moses had to lead his people through the wilderness for 40 years, the great exodus from Egypt, a journey that required all of his considerable skills and quite a bit of divine intervention.

Coach Gillian's Lancers had their own wilderness years spent without a conference, crisscrossing the nation, playing David against the Goliaths of NCAA Division I basketball:

At Kansas.

Half way across the country to play Indiana.

On the road to play Kentucky.

At Florida.

Away to West Virginia.

At Cincinnati.

At Kansas State.

At Oklahoma.

At Nebraska.

At New Mexico.

Long distance to play San Francisco.

At Marquette.

At Virginia.

At Maryland.

At Wake Forest.


At Illinois.

At Southern California.

Holy Moses!

And there was no manna from heaven along the way.

No burning bush.

Coach Gillian and his teams had to swim across and through their Red Seas all by themselves. No miraculous parting of those waves and tides was performed for them as they lifted Longwood from Division II to Division I.

And Coach Gillian did just that, he and his teams, during his decade-long tenure as the university struggled against the immense odds and supreme challenges of being without a conference in which to play comparable teams from comparable institutions.

No, the Gillian Lancers journeyed back and forth across America, taking the bumps and bruises from their nomadic school of hard knocks, but also taking Longwood closer and closer to the day it would join, finally, the Big South Conference and have a fighting chance to forge its way into the March Madness of NCAA Tournament play.

One day, the Longwood men's basketball team will cross that final Jordan River-esque NCAA Tournament border. Coach Gillian, looking from afar, standing on his own Mount Pisgah, will know, as we know, that the crossing will be part of the legacy he and his teams forged for those who follow in their footsteps.

“I'm very proud of what I've accomplished at Longwood,” Coach Gillian told The Herald. “When I got started, there was nothing. It was 2003, not even a Division I program yet, and I was entrusted to build a successful Division I program. Over time, I think we've accomplished those things…I have nothing but pride in the players and coaches and appreciation for what they've done for me over that time. I'm proud of what we've been able to put together to get Longwood to where we did.”

Coach Gillian should feel pride.

He's earned that.

And more.

Because, in truth, Coach Gillian has already taken the Longwood Lancers to the Promised Land. Two Promised Lands, actually. The first is LU's earned status as a solid Division I basketball program and one that is now safely home in a conference where the team can compete for championships and trips to the NCAA Tournament every single year.

That's the commitment, the promise, Coach Gillian made to Longwood and its mission to evolve from Division II to Division I ten years ago. The land of that promise has been settled by the Lancers. Unlike Moses, Coach Gillian got there with his team. He doesn't have to settle for a distant view from Mount Pisgah.

The second Promised Land has even deeper resonance, however. Coach Gillian taught his student-athletes at Longwood, as he will those on his next team, a lesson that will last a lifetime-the most important Promised Land is inside you.

And no pharaoh on earth can exile you from that.