Together One Last Time

One of life’s pleasures is having one last chance to re-live a great experience that was thought to be complete. Arkansas Tech’s Mark Downey and Brandon Friedel will get that opportunity on Friday night.

Downey will get one last chance to coach Friedel, and Friedel will get one last chance to play for Downey when the two participate as part of the East team in the National Association of Basketball Coaches NCAA Division II All-Star Game in Springfield, Mass.

Tip-off is set for 6 p.m. CDT Friday at the MassMutual Center in Springfield, site of the men’s NCAA Division II Elite Eight.

Downey, who recently completed his fourth season as Arkansas Tech’s head men’s basketball coach, brought Friedel to Arkansas Tech from Victoria, Texas, as part of his first recruiting class for the Wonder Boys.

Together, they have played a large role in taking Arkansas Tech men’s basketball from the basement of the Gulf South Conference West Division to heights the program has never seen before.

Tech was 6-21 overall in 2006-07, Downey’s and Friedel’s first season.

In year two, the 2007-08 Wonder Boys were 18-11 and they won a game at the GSC Tournament for the first time ever.

The 2008-09 campaign brought the program’s first NCAA Division II national ranking, a GSC Tournament championship, a berth in the NCAA Division II Tournament for the first time, a win in the NCAA Division II Tournament for the first time and a 23-9 overall record.

It would have been difficult to imagine another great leap forward in Friedel’s senior season, but that is exactly what happened.

The 2009-10 Wonder Boys finished 30-2 to establish a new school record for wins in a season. Tech won its first GSC West Division men’s basketball championship, its second consecutive GSC Tournament title and it earned the right to host the men’s NCAA Division II South Regional for the first time ever.

The Wonder Boys attained a No. 1 national ranking for the first time ever. They held it for six consecutive weeks, the longest streak atop the poll by any GSC men’s basketball team ever. Tech was ranked No. 1 in seven of the 15 top 25 polls released by the NABC in 2009-10.

Downey was named GSC West Division coach of the year, while Friedel earned GSC West Division player of the year and All-NCAA Division II South Region accolades.

Friedel finished his career with 233 3-pointers, fifth-most in Tech men’s basketball history. It was reminiscent of a pretty fair shooter who came out of St. Francis High School in Morgantown, W. Va., 20 years ago.

“When I first saw Brandon, he reminded me of myself,” said Downey before Tech’s final home game of the regular season. “He became our leader. He didn’t have that in him when he first got here. (Brandon) is the epitome of toughness.”

But the NCAA Tournament is a cruel beast. Valdosta State shot 56 percent against the Wonder Boys in the second round at Tucker Coliseum, and in a matter of less than two hours it all came to a sudden end.

Fortunately, the end is not always the end.

Now, Downey and Friedel get one last chance to compete together. It will not be in the game that they wanted to end their season in, but it will be an opportunity to re-live the great ride that they have taken together the last four years.