A decade has gone by since the Lehigh men’s basketball team made history and captured its second Patriot League Championship since joining the league in 1990.
Senior forward Zahir Carrington, ‘10, had never won a championship, until he and his teammates beat arch-rival Lafayette in a thrilling 74-59 victory on March 12, 2010.
A commitment was made by Carrington and the team at the beginning of the season to how they wanted to impact the program and create a tradition.
For the 2010 senior class, “trust, love, commitment and family” was more than just a mantra. Engraved on their championship rings are those very words in which they believe created the identity of their team, circling around family.
“They were a group of guys (that) cared about each other in a deep and unique way,” said head coach Brett Reed. “They wanted to do it the right way.”
Carrington made his mark on the Leopards, putting his will to win on display with his performance as he finished the night with 18 points, 10 rebounds and four blocks, helping propel the team to the win.
With the championship and ultimate bragging rights on the line against the school 15 miles away in Easton, the rivalry added a whole other layer of intensity to the season.
“I could feel in the locker room the whole building shake and rattle because of the excitement and anticipation from the students and fans,” Reed said.
The campus engagement and connectedness in the environment made the victory that much sweeter, as the Mountain Hawks went on to face the No. 1 seeded Kansas Jayhawks in the first round of the NCAA tournament only a week later.
Seeing Lehigh next to other notable basketball teams in the country on Selection Sunday made Reed feel a great deal of pride to be representing the university in something that received as much attention as the NCAA Tournament.
“For a small school like us, sometimes people don’t have that opportunity,” said senior guard Marquis Hall, ‘10.
The Mountain Hawks led for the majority of the first half in the NCAA Tournament, however, Kansas extended their lead in the second half, closing out a 90-74 win against Lehigh. Despite the loss, the team knows they belonged.
“We earned their respect,” Carrington said. “We were right there with them until they eventually pulled away and won the game
Hall said that although they lost, that game set the foundation for Lehigh teams to follow.
The experiences gained set the standard for their second appearance in the NCAA tournament two years later. With more of an attacking mentality and greater belief within their abilities, the 2011-2012 team would advance to the second round after beating Duke 75-70, eventually losing to Xavier University.
Having gone through it once, then-freshman guard C.J. McCollum, ‘13, said he wasn’t afraid of the big moment when they played Duke in 2012.
“It was my chance to play on the big stage,” McCollum said. “I felt right at home.”
McCollum went on to face players he lost to in 2010 in the NBA, such as Tyshawn Taylor, Markieff Morris and Marcus Morris, having also become teammates with Thomas Robinson for the Portland Trail Blazers.
Tallying a 22-11 overall season, the ‘09-’10 team holds the second-best overall record in program history, second only to the ‘11-’12 team that posted an impressive 27-8 overall record.
“There is a culture (at Lehigh) of hard work and earning what you have,” Carrington said.
That culture played a role in McCollum’s growth, as he believes Lehigh helped him mature into the man and player he is today.
Since graduating, Carrington and Hall’s love for the game has continued to grow. Basketball not only brought them life lessons, opportunities, and experiences, but also afforded them relationships that would last a lifetime.
“My best friends now were my teammates then,” said Hall.
Having put Lehigh on the forefront of people’s minds, the 2009-2010 team will go down in history as not only one of the most successful teams in program history, but also as the team who paved the way for the future, leaving a long-lasting legacy that would carry on for more than a decade to come.