Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Unlikely Looking No. 1 TAAC Tourney Favorite Samford Has Shot to the Top

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Unlikely Looking No. 1 TAAC Tourney Favorite Samford Has Shot to the Top

Article excerpt

The top seed in the Trans America Athletic Conference tournament isn't hard to find. Just look for the team that doesn't look like a top seed.

So says its coach, who says look for:

The team with no muscle.

The team whose players don't look like athletes.

The team that looks like it couldn't go 15-1 in the conference and 24-5 overall, the one that set all sorts of standards for basketball at its school this season.

"You're going to see us, and say, `How does that team win games?' " said Jimmy Tillette, men's basketball coach at Samford University, which will play a first-round game against Campbell (9-17, 6-10 in the TAAC) in the Coliseum today at 3 p.m.

Tillette said this bothered his players. Once.

"They kind of laugh about it now," he said.

"We walk into a restaurant, and people say, `Who's this high school team?'" said Samford forward Reed Rawlings, the conference player of the year. "It's kind of fun."

Laughs have come easy at Samford lately. Tillette, a Samford assistant for six years, became coach last season. The Bulldogs were the only original member of the 21-year-old TAAC never to have won a conference championship -- regular-season or tournament. They had never won 11 TAAC games in a season and, five years ago, won just 10 games overall.

Last year, they went 14-13. This season, without a senior, they went through January undefeated, had a 13-game winning streak and lost in the conference only to Georgia State, 57-54, on Feb. 15.

The key to the success? The offense. When Tillete became head coach, he switched to the intricate offense played by Princeton. It's an offense based on motion and 3-point shooting, and its difficulty contributed to early trouble last year.

"If you look at this year compared to last year, it's obvious," Rawlings said. "We'd get the first 10 seconds down, and then everybody'd be running around. It's still difficult, but we're catching on."

By this year, Tillette said the players have embraced it. The Bulldogs are the highest scoring team in the TAAC at 76. …

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