LU basketball: Two months later

Alexander Weck

For a few months, Chris Braier, Kyle MacGillis and the LU men’s basketball team were untouchable. They reached a level of stardom unprecedented by any Lawrence team. With national media coverage coming from ESPN and USA Today in late January, the nation became aware of the Vikings as college basketball’s Little Engine that Could.
Not only did they become the nation’s only undefeated team, they carried that title into the national tournament in March. They eventually reached a total of 25 straight wins before falling to Illinois Wesleyan in the Sweet 16.
I had a chance to sit down with the team’s leaders, back to their other lives as students, to discuss their thoughts on a remarkable year.Alex Weck: If you are reminded of this past season, what first comes to mind?
Chris Braier: I would say, just how much fun it was. Every day, practices or games, it was an enjoyment to be there. The support we got from everyone and being able to go to a game to play in front of a huge crowd made it so much fun to play. It was probably the most fun I’ve had in my four years of playing.
Kyle MacGillis: I would echo the same thing, but adding one new thing: the pep band. I thought that was a really neat new aspect to my senior year. My high school didn’t have a pep band, so coming here and getting to have them play for us was really fun because it seemed like we got more people involved.
AW: What do you think was different about this year’s team?
KM: The cohesiveness of this year’s team moreso than anything.
CB: From seniors down to freshmen, we didn’t think of each other as different classes, just one team.
AW: With so many memorable games in one season, can you pick a single game that sticks out as the most exciting?
CB: I would have to say the game at Carroll. To have so many fans of ours come down and pack their place over capacity, and then rush the court after we won, that’s when we felt like there was something special.
KM: The Carroll game and UW-Madison. To compete against that high a level of basketball players was a lot of fun.
AW: How do you think that game impacted the rest of the season? Did it do anything to set the stage at the beginning?
CB: Especially with the underclassmen, it brought us to the sense that we could play with anybody. When you open up against a Division I team and play in front of 18,000 people, after that, there isn’t much of an awe factor. It made every game a lot easier because we had played in a bigger situation.
AW: How would you express your feelings about the Illinois Wesleyan game?
KM: Disappointment. We had set our standards so very high. I think that is something that had helped us a lot, but when the time finally came, it was a little heartbreaking.
CB: You wish you could go back and change a couple things, as always. It’s not like they were a lot better than us; we played with them but just caught a couple of bad breaks in the end. I would love to replay the game
KM: It was more of an immediate disappointment. Now, I look back on the season and I have no regrets.
CB: Agreed
AW: Being undefeated, did you ever feel that you were expected to win? From the community? From yourselves?
KM: All the pressure from the outside turned into a self-pressure. We wanted to do it for ourselves even though other things were influencing how much we wanted to win. We didn’t want to let anyone down, on top of wanting ourselves to win.
CB: I never really felt pressure from anyone else. Everyone was so supportive of us. The environment that we played in was so great that I didn’t really feel any pressure at all.
AW: Do you think the presence of the national media changed the team in any way?
CB: I think we have a bunch of humble guys on the team. It was part of Kyle and my job to keep everybody focused. It was good to have the attention, but if we had lost one game the attention would be gone. We had to keep it in perspective. It got everybody more excited but it didn’t get to our heads at all.
AW: What do you hope to have left behind with the program?
CB: We are really proud to have been a part of bringing the community together. Like Kyle mentioned before with the pep band, it seemed like we brought the whole school together. I hope the team can continue that and that the tradition of winning will continue as well.
KM: When I look back on this, as much as I will remember all of the games, I will also remember the support and the atmosphere. I hope that continues.
Braier is hoping to pursue professional basketball in the coming years, with his eyes also on law school. MacGillis plans to return to his hometown of Milwaukee to work before looking at medical school. They wish to thank the Lawrence community for all its support.