Four years ago: Sayveon McEwen was slumped against the banisters of press row at the CFSB Center in Murray — his Paducah Tilghman jersey pulled over his sullen face, and Murray players consoling him after the Blue Tornado fell, 41-37, in the 2016 First Region boys basketball semifinals.
Two years ago: He was wrapping up a two-year junior college career at Shawnee Community College in Ullin, Illinois, and was nearing his commitment to play in the Northeast Conference for coach Andrew Toole and Robert Morris.
Tuesday night at the newly built UPMC Events Center in Moon Township, Pennsylvania: McEwen could only embrace his teammates and marvel — as a sold-out swarm of fans stormed the court and helped the Colonials lift the NEC championship trophy, that beautiful golden basketball, following a 77-67 NCAA Tournament-clinching win against St. Francis.
And now, he can’t stop thinking about it.
“None of us have gotten much sleep, and it’s like ‘wow, we’ve done it,’ ” he said. “It’s one of those ‘wow’ moments. I’ve never won anything in my life, to be honest. I know how to feel, but it’s still amazing to me that we accomplished that goal, man. As a team. As a squad. As a unit. It’s just unexplainable, man. It’s so unexplainable. I’m so happy, man. I’m proud of the work the coaches have put in us. It’s unimaginable. I don’t know what to say.”
The Colonials (20-14, 13-5), picked fifth in preseason NEC basketball polls, had not only done the thing, but they’d done it convincingly. The Red Flash, the league’s best offense at 78 points per game, was held to 3-for-17 from the arc.
And like he’s done all season as a senior guard off the bench, McEwen played 10 meaningful minutes, notching three points, two rebounds and one assist, in what’s the first championship of any kind for him.
For the year, he’s averaged 5.4 points on 39.1% shooting from the floor and 32% shooting from the arc, playing nearly 13 minutes a game.
His role? Bring energy. Lots of it.
“Come in hot,” he said. “Make sure I’m defensively sound. Make sure I’m getting guys going. I’m one of those guys that guys listen to. Just a voice. A big voice for the team. If I’m smiling and my energy is high, I know guys are going to feed off me.”
Up 12-8 early in Tuesday’s title tilt, McEwen caught a pass on the left elbow from senior forward Yannis Mendy, and coolly buried the triple from what he called “my spot.”
“I don’t know if you noticed, but that three I hit kind of got the crowd, my teammates, my coaches ... it kind of got us going, man,” he said. “That would be my role. Energy, energy, energy. Score. Make sure guys are in the right spots. Talking. Communicating. Leading. All those types of roles.”
After the win, McEwen didn’t want to let go of the trophy. Not long after he did, he went into the Colonials’ locker room, and stared at it for five minutes.
It could’ve been four years, for all he knew. Because when he was playing at Paducah Tilghman and at Shawnee Community College, where were the thoughts of playing in a college conference championship? The thoughts of punching the ticket to “The Big Dance”?
Dreams. Merely dreams. All of which have now come to fruition.
“It’s been a roller-coaster ride,” he said. “It has had its ups and downs, you know. We were predicted fifth in the preseason, so they never expected us to make it at all. Be a No. 1 seed. Host. Win the tournament. None of that. It’s something that we decided this summer that we wanted to do. Those were our three goals: win 20-plus games, host the tournament, win the NEC Tournament and make it to ‘The Big Dance.’ I don’t know where we’d be without our coaching staff and our wonderful fans and support. I’m really at a loss for words, man. It’s like a dream come true. You pray for times like these.”
And he wasn’t finished.
“God had something in store for me,” he added. “And this was our moment. Not just mine, but my teammates, coaches, my family and friends, their family and friends.
“I’m really appreciative of my Paducah family, the community. Everyone’s behind me, supporting me and helping me along this journey, man. The prayers, the ‘good lucks,’ nothing is going unnoticed. I promise you. The only hard part is making sure I say ‘thank you’ to everybody. That’s the hard part. Making sure that they hear from me. That’s what’s so important.”
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