EMORY, Va. — The 2017-18 Emory & Henry Wasps have earned a 17-1 record, first place in the Old Dominion Athletic Conference and a national ranking in the NCAA D3hoop.com men’s basketball poll.
But for longtime E&H fans, the ultimate seal of approval came at halftime of last Saturday’s 75-65 victory over fellow ODAC title contender Randolph-Macon.
As part of Alumni Day festivities on Bob Johnson Court, members of the storied 1987-88 NCAA Division III Sweet 16 team were honored during a video presentation.
As the familiar voice and images flashed on the gym wall, the reflective smiles widened and the cheers grew louder.
“This institution helped me become a man,” said Stan Eggleston, a Martinsville, Virginia, native who was inducted in the E&H Sports Hall of Fame in 1995. “I remember so many little things about the program and our teams.”
Eggleston, a 30-year educator, pointed to common themes between the former Wasps led by Bob Johnson and the current Wasps directed by fifth-year coach David Willson.
“I love the intensity on defense, the attention to detail and just the way the guys work together,” Eggleston said. “It’s great basketball.”
For the 1987-88 season when the Wasps were also nationally ranked, that chemistry was concocted during intensive two-a-day practice sessions. Many of those sessions came long before sunrise.
“Those two-a-days shaped us and gave us strength,” Eggleston said. “More than anything, they gave us confidence that we could play against anyone.”
Ryan Gravley was a steadying four-year force for the Wasps at guard before graduating last season. According to the Carroll County High School Sports Hall of Fame member, the seeds for success were planted last year when the Wasps advanced to the ODAC tournament title game.
“We thought we had a chance at a NCAA run last season, and it’s been great to see how the players have responded and are determined to finish things,” Gravley said. “The guys are all focused and all playing with one goal.”
Gravley said that the consistent teachings of Willson have established the groundwork for long-term success.
“The entire culture has changed over the past few years and Coach Willson has done a great job of keeping the guys on track,” Gravley said. “We went after each other every day in practice and I’m sure that approach is the same.”
Major Warner, another E&H Hall of Famer, said the hidden aspects of basketball such as moving without the ball and helping teammates on defense are a vital part of the formula for the current Wasps.
“This team does all little things well and my heart was bursting with pride watching the players and coaches,” said Warner, who works in the metro Nashville school system. “Their record is reflective of a set of values relative to hard work. The team is well-coached and fundamentally sound, plus they shoot, defend and support each other well.”
Eric Scott knows something about leadership and devotion to a job.
The 6-foot-1 point guard from Lynchburg, Virginia, is the only player in program history to serve as team captain all four years. He later won an Emmy award for his work as a photojournalist at WJZ-TV in Baltimore, Maryland.
“So many things I learned from Coach Johnson have helped me in my career,” Scott said. “For example, when we had a 5 o’clock practice, you had to be 10 minutes early. If you were on time, you were late.”
Former E&H point guard and current Wofford College head basketball coach Mike Young prepared a taped speech for the E&H family during halftime of Saturday’s showdown with Randolph-Macon.
The highlight of the day according to Scott was helping to escort Sherry Johnson, Bob’s Johnson’s widow, to center court along with former players such as Craig McLaughlin and Leon Hill.
“I wasn’t going on the floor without Sherry,” Scott said. “Sherry Johnson is as much a part of the Emory & Henry men’s basketball program than any player or coach.
“Everybody looks at Coach Johnson, but Sherry was always there for an encouraging word before and after every home and away game. She has been a mother figure to so many successful basketball players and assistant coaches here, and she still is.”
Sherry was in her usual seat for Saturday’s signature win before rushing to Abingdon High School where her son Casey is the head coach of the Abingdon Falcons boys basketball team.
The Wasps, who average 86 points while shooting 49 percent from the floor, look to add another chapter to their breakthrough season Saturday with a 2 p.m. game against ODAC rival Bridgewater at Bob Johnson Court.
“It’s awesome to see Emory & Henry basketball back on top like this,” Scott said. “There is just so much excitement and energy in the gym. It’s great for the school, and it’s just fun to watch.”