TRINITY — After struggling at first to field a full squad, Trinity College now finds itself with its strongest basketball team ever.
The Tigers have attained the best conference record in school history and are on their way this week to the Division II playoffs of the National Christian College Athletic Association. They've done it with only a handful of scholarship athletes and a number of teammates scouted to fill the void left by recruits who didn't get into Trinity, an evangelical Christian college that has about 200 students.
"This is the best team I've had since I've been here, not the best talent necessarily," fourth-year coach Daniel Delgardo said. "This is a great group of guys that play together, which is what has gotten us to this point. Funny thing is we had a bunch of guys that we recruited but didn't get in. By the grace of God we've gone from eight players to a full squad since the beginning of the season and done well."
Without a true big man, the team deploys 6-foot-3 sophomore Gregory Buckshon at center and 5-foot-8 sophomore Terrence Quinn at power forward and center when Buckshon needs a rest.
Quinn, who says he sometimes attempts to emulate Glen "Big Baby" Davis of the Orlando Magic, has been an effective presence scoring and rebounding in double figures over the last 10 games. He's not fazed by the challenge of matching up against bigger players.
"I don't look at how tall they are," Quinn said. "I try to play physical defense, and on the offensive end I just try to use my body and get them under the basket so it's tough for them to block my shot. This season has been hard on us but we've gotten so close because of it. We've seen so much improvement over the course of this season."
Lacking the lineup depth of their opponents, the Tigers have to rely on a strict training regimen of 5:30 a.m. practices and specialty workouts designed by Pasco speed coach Rob Oppedisano. That mixture, along with the heart and willpower of their starters, has helped them compete with teams that boast double the amount of scholarship athletes.
"Early in the season we had a talk and we decided no matter how small we are or how short our bench is that we were going to overcome our deficits by fighting," freshman point guard Rasheed Hall said. "We've been down 10 with 10 minutes left and been able to do what it takes to win. When we get in the huddle we starters always remind each other that we can't get a break at the same time, you just have to suck it up."
Playing a perimeter game that specializes in penetrating and kicking the ball out, the Tigers are an exciting offensive team to watch, although not always successful, with an overall record of 10-21 (4-4 in the conference).
This season has been one of trials and tribulations for Delgardo, who lost his father to cancer on Dec. 5, three days after his daughter was born. He has drawn strength from his team, who knew his father as an assistant coach, and the heart they have shown on the floor.
"It's been hard for me losing my father but it makes me feel good to see this team do what it's done," Delgardo said. "What I'm hanging my hat on is the fact that our team GPA is up this year in the midst of all we've had going on. We've had guys unable to play in the past because of grades, but this year that hasn't been the case."