They’re aiming high at Queens during this men’s basketball season.
Players and even coach Bart Lundy aren’t hesitating when asked about NCAA Division II national championship prospects for the No. 4-ranked Royals, who take an 11-0 record into Saturday’s South Atlantic Conference game against visiting Mars Hill. Tipoff is 4 p.m.
“That’s the conversation we want to be in,” Lundy said at Thursday’s practice. “We want to be among the premier programs in the country.”
“It would be the ultimate way to go out,” said senior forward Jared Hendryx, who started his college career on a Queens team that went 14-13.
That was the first season of the second stint in Charlotte for Lundy, who coached the Royals to a Final Four appearance in that first tenure from 1998-2003. Lundy, who was head coach at High Point and and assistant at Marquette and North Texas before returning in 2013, is Queens’ all-time winningest coach.
“I love Queens and I take a lot of pride in being a part of its past, but also of its present and future,” Lundy said. “That’s an opportunity that’s rare in college athletics.”
And he sees this team, one of the country’s 14 unbeaten NCAA teams, as one that could take advantage of a rare opportunity.
“Our goal is to win every game, but that’s everybody’s goal and it’s easier said than done,” Lundy said. “I knew when I came back that getting to where we are now might take a while. But we really have a group that’s committed to doing its best and being tough every single day.
“There haven’t been many days so far this season where I thought we’ve been less than that.”
A win Saturday would match last season’s 12-0 start. That team finished 25-7 and advanced to the second round of the Division II tournament before losing to fellow SAC member Lincoln Memorial.
This year’s team is climbing toward those same heights after losing guard Rob Lewis and forward Sean Morgan, who were on the All-SAC first team.
“Honestly, I wasn’t sure how we could follow up what we did last season,” said Hendryx, the Royals’ top shot-blocker, who’s also averaging 6.1 points and 4.6 rebounds. “But everybody's stepped up their game. Everybody’s unselfish and we look out for each other.”
Four Queens players average double-figure scoring, led by forward Daniel Camps, a senior from Fayetteville, at 15.8 points a game. He’s also the Royals’ leading rebounder with 7.8 a game.
Several newcomers, like starting point guard Ike Agusi, have plugged gaps left by graduation.
“These guys can play, and it’s fun to be a part of it,” said Agusi, a junior from Dallas who transferred from a Texas junior college and leads the Royals with 4.4 assists per game. “This team has amazing depth, and that’s been a big part of our success.”
Queens’ players and their coach say another big part of the team’s success started with preseason preparation — a “boot camp” of wind sprints designed to build physical endurance and team spirit.
“It’s not just a physical thing, but mental, too,” Lundy said, “They start from not being able to make two to everybody’s able to do 40. It’s everybody holding themselves accountable.”
And this fall, they went from that shared suffering to beating a Division I team in a preseason game - a 75-73 victory at Virginia Commonwealth on Nov. 4.
“It was the best possible way to get started,” Agusi said. “It’s inspired us to keep the ball rolling.”
There’s a lot of season left, including two games with Lincoln Memorial, the SAC’s top program the past few years, coached by former Queens assistant Josh Schertz.
“I’m proud of what he’s done there,” Lundy said. “And until we get over that hump, we’re not where we need to be.”