Feels like yesterday: NCCU honors 1989 national champions

Jan. 18, 2014 @ 07:57 PM

Cheney University lost on Saturday.

The team’s head coach, Dominique Stephens, wasn’t there.

He had a family reunion to attend at N.C. Central.

On March 25, 1989, NCCU beat Southeast Missouri State 73-46 to win the NCAA Division II basketball title.

Stephens was on that squad, and he and the other members of that team huddled once more during a ceremony honoring them at halftime of Saturday’s Delaware State-NCCU game.

Stephens said he hadn’t missed a game in 11 years of coaching, but there was no way he’d sit out the silver anniversary of NCCU’s national championship.

“It is a once-in-a-lifetime thing. You will never see 25 years again,” Stephens said. “I love North Carolina Central. I love everything that it stands for. I’m just glad to be back, glad to be home.”

The crowd in McDougald-McLendon Gymnasium gave the champs a very warm welcome while they stood at halfcourt with NCCU chancellor Debra Saunders-White and NCCU athletics director Ingrid Wicker-McCree.

Jeffrey Hayes was the 6-4 point guard on NCCU’s title team that emerged to the national stage out of the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association. He was a uniquely tall ball distributor during a time when 5-7, 5-8, lighting-fast point guards were running around the CIAA.

“I had a tough job,” Hayes said. “I wasn’t the quickest guy but had a long reach.”

Hayes lives in Henderson and works in state government.

NCCU’s title team was coached by Michael Bernard, and Greg Jackson was one of his assistants. They joined the ceremony after working during the first half of Saturday’s game. Jackson is Delaware State’s head coach, and Bernard assists him.

The title NCCU brought to Durham was the city’s first national championship in basketball, arriving before Duke University’s trophy showed up in 1991.

“That’s something that people really don’t know when you’re talking about the rich history of the city of Durham,” Hayes said. “There’s a little, old school on the other side of town, and we play a little ball too. We, too, represent North Carolina.”

NCCU title-team member Fred “Pop” Bennett said he used to stand nearly at halfcourt shooting 3-pointers, and Stephens practically could change the light bulbs when he went up for dunks.

“I’d turn this place out 25 years ago. I’m being for real,” Stephens boasted.

Hayes and former teammate Marvin “Rat” Reed were absorbing the old-school vibe that arena deejay Jalen “DJ Double J” Jarmon was pushing through the speakers, a little “If It Isn’t Love” by New Edition. It was like old times.

“It feels like yesterday that we were just here,” Hayes said. “It was a great time. I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world. To accomplish what we accomplished and to still be relevant, it’s a great feeling.”