Hampden-Sydney Tigers look back on rebuild, ahead to tournament

Published 3:15 am Thursday, March 2, 2023

HAMPDEN SYDNEY – Harrison Taylor remembers what it was like the first time he came to campus. The 6’5 ft. senior forward from Nashville, Tennessee saw what was on the stat sheet, as five years ago, the Hampden-Sydney Tigers only had four wins. But he saw more than that. He saw the potential in what Coach Caleb Kimbrough was building. Flash forward to 2023 and Taylor is part of a team headed to the Division III NCAA Tournament. 

“To see it come to fruition now, a few years later, it’s an emotional moment,” Taylor said. “It really makes you step back. College basketball is such a busy and emotional roller coaster and sometimes you forget. You don’t get to step back and look at all the work you put in. It means a lot. And the fact that we’re just getting started, it’s exciting.” 

Exciting pretty much describes how the school, Taylor’s classmates and even the community feel right now. The Tigers finished the regular season this year with an overall record of 20-5, including 14-2 in the ODAC (Old Dominion Athletic Conference). It marks the program’s highest win total since the 2012-13 season, when they went 23-5 and only the fourth time in 20 years that the team has won 20 or more. Interestingly enough, that 2012-13 squad was also the last group that made the NCAA tournament. Hampden-Sydney also earned its highest national ranking in school history this year, climbing as high as #16 in the Top 25. They currently stand at #20.  

Rebuilding the Hampden-Sydney Tigers

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“When you come into a school like Hampden-Sydney, you’re at this storied program,” Taylor said. “You walk into the gym and there are all these banners about national championship appearances, tournament appearances and ODAC championships. I won’t say it’s pressure, but you feel at least a certain obligation to give everything you have in order to continue that legacy.” 

Taylor’s teammate, 5’10 ft. junior guard Adam Brazil, agrees. Also from one of Coach Kimbrough’s first recruiting classes, Brazil said this year’s wins mean a lot, because of how the team got better in each of his three years. 

“It’s easier to build a house from scratch than it is to tear down a house and rebuild it,” the Mooresville, North Carolina native said. “I think it was just really hard to establish a new culture here and we’ve done that, by putting in a lot of blood, sweat and tears. It’s a very rewarding feeling.” 

‘It’s bigger than us,” 6’6 forward Josiah Hardy said. “We’re not just playing for us, we’re playing for the school.” 

Hardy, who comes from Ashburn, points to the school’s history. The Tigers have been to the NCAA tournament 14 times, with a pair of Sweet Sixteen visits in 1992 and 1994, a trip to the Elite Eight in 1995 and a spot in the championship game in 1999. Add in another Final Four appearance in 2003 and you have a program that’s used to displaying banners. 

“We’re trying to get that back,” Hardy said. “Coming from a history where we’re (in) every year, we want that back. It’s tough, but I’m very grateful to be a part of something so special.” 

Hampden-Sydney Tigers

A look at this year’s Hampden-Sydney Tigers. The team finished the regular season this year with an overall record of 20-5, including 14-2 in the ODAC. Now they’re focused on an NCAA run.

Defining Tiger basketball

But this year’s Tigers team, while honoring the past, is its own thing. The team talks about having “Tiger DNA” and, as Brazil pointed out, focus on Tiger basketball. That’s not just a style of play. It’s a culture, something you can point to and immediately recognize. 

“You have an obligation to your teammates to give your all every day,” said 6’4 ft. junior guard Alex Elliott. “It’s almost selfish of you not to. We talk about being the excellence of Division 3 basketball and that’s what it is, hustling on and off the court.” 

Brazil agreed, saying he would define it as being high energy. 

“It’s this really high energy confidence,” Brazil said. “Locking up on the defensive end, moving the ball on the offensive end, shooting three pointers and dunking. It means waking up with a clean slate every morning, wondering how I can give my all today. It’s the way we operate.” 

Now Tiger basketball will face off against Emory University in the first round of the NCAA Tournament,as Hampden-Sydney plays Friday at 7:20 p.m.

The school was one of 16 sites chosen to host first and second round games. The two winners of the Friday games will play in the second round on Saturday, March 4, at 7:20 p.m.

And the players are ready. 

“It’s definitely a surreal feeling,” Taylor said. “All of us talked after the selection show about how we used to sit in our high schools and watch March Madness on our laptops. And now it’s our time.” 

Hardy nodded and said now it’s time to put the work in. 

“No excuses. We use that 24-7,” Hardy said. “It’s time to get it done.”