THE DAY afterXavier was knocked out of the Atlantic 10 Conference tournament semifinals onMarch 13, assistant coach James Whitford booked a $1,300 plane ticket to Tampato scout a recruit the next day. This might seem unrelated to the Musketeers'eventual advance to the Sweet 16 for the second straight year, but according tocoach Sean Miller, "It means everything."
Whitford, whopreviously coached at mid-major Miami (Ohio), says, "[At Miami] I wouldhave had to make several connections to save money. Here I saved three hours offlying time, [which is] three hours more I can spend with the recruit."
Successfulrecruiting has been key for Xavier, which can make the case that it—and notGonzaga, or even Memphis—is the king of the non-BCS-conference mid-majors. (TheMusketeers so hate the term that they turned down an award last year because itwas for Mid-Major Player of the Week, but that's life in the A-10.) Xavier hasmade it into the NCAA tournament in eight of the last nine years, and if it candefeat top-seeded Pittsburgh in Boston on Friday, it will have reached itsthird Elite Eight in six seasons.
"We're builtto last," Miller said after Xavier beat Wisconsin 60--49 in Boise, Idaho,on Sunday. "People expected us to disappear, but they don't know what'sgone into getting the program to this point. We're not going away."
"It's not onething, but many little things that have happened over the years that haveallowed success to breed here," says Mike Bobinski, the athletic directorat Xavier, which, like Gonzaga, is a small (6,700 students) Jesuit school."We made a commitment to use basketball to build up the image of theuniversity, and we've had to renew that commitment many times."
The most visiblesign of the school's all-in fervor is the Cintas Center, the 10,250-seat, $46million arena that opened on campus in 2000. "It puts us on par with somany programs that we weren't on par with before," says Miller. "Peopleask: Can you win a national championship at Xavier? I think we've shown that wecan compete with the teams that are winning national championships."
Miller haschanged Xavier from the kind of pressing team that was favored by hispredecessors, Pete Gillen and Skip Prosser, to a stingy, half-court defensiveoutfit. The Musketeers held Portland State to 14 points below its season'saverage in the first round and Wisconsin to 15 points below its average inround 2. And they're unlikely to suffer a talent drop-off when seniors B.J.Raymond and C.J. Anderson depart. Freshman center Kenny Frease came off thebench to score seven points with four rebounds and two blocks in 18 minutes onSunday. The 7-footer from Massillon, Ohio, was among the most recruited big menin the country last year, with offers from Kentucky, Indiana and Notre Dame."I visited all those schools," Frease says, "and in the end Irealized that Xavier was as big-time as any of them."
"We've shown we can compete with the teams winningnational titles," says Miller.
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SCRAP HEAP Typically tough D by Raymond (top) and Dante Jackson thrust the Muskeeters back into the Sweet 16.
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