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Paris Junior College men’s basketball team left shortly before 9:30 a.m. today on a bus taking them to the NJCAA basketball national championships in Hutchinson, Kan.
Several dozen fans were at the Hunt Center on the PJC campus to see them off on their 400-mile trip — about a seven-hour trip.
The Dragons will represent Region XIV in Hutchinson, having just won the regular season championship and then going 3-and-0 in the regional tournament March 5-8 at Tyler to improve to 26-7 on the season.
As the No. 8 seed of the 24 teams in Hutchinson, the Dragons have a first-round bye and won’t see their first action until 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, when they take on the winner of Monday’s noon game between No. 9 seed South Plains College (last season’s national champion) and No. 24 seed Cape Fear.
PJC head coach Chuck Taylor told the fans who came to wish them well that the goal is to bring back a national championship banner to go with the one the Dragons won in 2005.
Ronnie White, a 6-9 sophomore center, also spoke. He thanked the fans for being behind the team throughout the season and for seeing them off to Kansas.
PJC President Pam Anglin delivered a personal message to the players, saying she had watched them all year and has seen something special in them. Just before they left, the players went through the crowd shaking hands with the fans and thanking them for the sendoff.
On a table were several boxes and sacks full of food brought by fans — something to nibble on the trip.
Six games are scheduled in Hutchinson on Monday and Tuesday, four games on Wednesday and Thursday, and two games on Friday and Saturday. Until last year, 16 teams — one from each region — went to Hutchinson, and it was a double-elimination affair.
Last year, the format was changed. In addition to the 16 regional champions, a second-place team was invited from four of the regions, plus four at-large selections, completing a 24-team field, single elimination.
The lone exception is when the field is trimmed to four teams. The two winners of Friday’s game will play for the national championship Saturday night, preceded by a third-place game between the loser’s of Friday’s games.
For seeding purposes, only the 16 regional champions were considered for seeds 1 through 8, and the first-round byes that go with them. After that, the remaining 16 teams were seeded by strength.
If Paris wins its game, it will not play again until noon Thursday against the winner of the Indian Hills game, and the winner of that game will advance to Friday’s semifinals and be assured of playing also on Saturday night.
Two more games Tuesday will cut the field to 16 teams, after which the eight teams with first-round byes will play the winners of the first eight games.
By Charles Richards, eParisExtra