Last season’s Longwood basketball magic was unforgettable.
Students lining up to fill seats before sold-out games. The Lancer men and women posting a combined 24 wins in rocking Willett Hall—the toughest place for opponents to play in all Virginia. A nationally televised home game on ESPN. Twin Big South Tournament titles. Selection Sunday. And finally the holy grail—March Madness, the NCAA Tournament, the national stage.
But that magic was no trick. It was the fruit of hard work and a long-term plan that predated last year’s success—and kept right on going soon after the final buzzers sounded. It’s about more than making a moment. It’s about building a program, faithful to Longwood’s culture and spirit, of sustained basketball success that uplifts the whole university— its camaraderie, alumni pride and national exposure.
There are colleges all over America that earn a taste of basketball success, but they don’t fully capitalize on it,” said President W. Taylor Reveley IV. “They don’t sustain it, and it doesn’t help push the whole institution forward. But there are a handful of spots that really do use it to become widely known, to build a brand of excellence and integrity, and to really take a broad leap forward. Think Gonzaga, Davidson, Butler. VCU has been a good example closer to home.
“We’ve really looked carefully at what makes a difference between a one-anddone ride and long-term success, and working to put those elements in place,” Reveley said. “That may not mean every season is as magical as last year. But a college basketball program that is competing every year, that is getting its name out, where there’s an energetic culture on campus and in the community of coming together for games— that’s special and powerful.”
If it were easy, every college would have done it already. But at Longwood, the pieces are in place.
Committed, experienced leadership. An extraordinary new arena, the Joan Perry Brock Center—a gem of classical architecture that will open next season in the very heart of campus.
And finally a strong philanthropic engine kicking into gear to support success— and serve as a model for other parts of Longwood.
The new leader of the team of Lancer magicians is new to Farmville, bringing with him 15 years of impressive experience. Tim Hall was announced as Longwood’s athletics director in July, coming to campus from Southern Illinois University Edwardsville (SIUE) and University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC), where he led the athletics department during their historic victory over No. 1 seeded UVA in the first round of the 2018 NCAA Tournament. “There is an insatiable appetite for a sport like basketball,” said Hall. “Successful programs can create a lens through which you can more broadly see the university and the good work that’s going on inside the community. It allows an increased amount of attention to be paid to a university that otherwise wouldn’t be there.”
One of the exciting things about coming to Longwood was President Reveley’s vision of the program as a front porch for the university—more than just wins and losses.Griff Aldrich, Men's Head Coach Tweet This
The next critical pieces are the head coaches. Griff Aldrich is entering his fifth year at the helm of the men’s program after leading the team to Longwood’s first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance and a nationally televised game on CBS. Erika Lang-Montgomery leads the women’s team, after being lured from perennially ranked University of Florida in the offseason.
“One of the exciting things about coming to Longwood was President Reveley’s vision of the program as a front porch for the university—more than just wins and losses,” said Aldrich. “At the core, we are about the development of young men. But what excites me is also the influence a program can have on an entire university and the surrounding community. The values that this program espouses mesh really well with the values of the university and the values of the community, and that interconnectedness is really critical.
“Our mission is to graduate and transform men of character,” said Aldrich. “That’s something that’s hard not to like and support. But it’s also something that’s at the core of what Longwood is, and it’s at the core of what many people in Farmville and Prince Edward County cherish and value.”
A hallmark of a successful, sustainable program: starting players who eschew the transfer portal and help recruit the next Lancer stars to the university. On the men’s side, veteran starters like Deshaun Wade ’22, Isaiah Wilkins ’22 and Zac Watson ’22 (all with remaining eligibility and currently in graduate school at Longwood) and Leslie Nkereuwem ’23 return this year. All have bought into the mission of the program and formed a unique bond with the students who pack Willett’s stands.
Lang-Montgomery felt the same sense of momentum and connection between the community and the university when she was considering leaving Gainesville, Florida, for a move 10 hours north.
“This was obviously a place where success wasn’t just a one-time fluke,” she said. “From the leadership style to the resources to the community support, things were already in place for sustainable success. And what was most impressive were the student- athletes who were already on the team. Their leadership and character and commitment to academic success made it very easy to recruit new high-quality players to the team and community.”
Key personnel from athletics and across the university have played roles in building the programs—from new strength and conditioning coordinators to admissions counselors to university marketing and communications staff.
“One of the things that sold me on Longwood was the comprehensive institutional effort,” said Hall. “The analogy is football’s West Coast Offense, where a lot of players play an active role. Basketball can be that vehicle that helps grow admissions and retention and esprit de corps and alumni relations and philanthropy. To do that, we work closely with departments like admissions, marketing and communications, academic affairs and student services to make sure we are all rowing in the same direction.”
BUILT TO WIN
To build a successful long-term program, Longwood has built a funding model that resembles investors supporting an emerging company.
Called Built To Win Partners, the concept is straightforward. Gather prospective donors, enlist them in the vision for the program and use philanthropy to drive the necessary investments to reach the next level of excellence.
“We aren’t the only school that has ever invested in a basketball program,” said Courtney Hodges, vice president for institutional advancement. “But for many of them who started in a similar place, it takes them a lot longer to get where they want to go. So the idea is, if you have a capital infusion at the beginning, can you get to where you want to go in five years instead of 10?”
Initial interest exceeded expectations. Donor support made possible a new state-of-the-art Basketball Performance Center that was constructed in Willett Hall. Built To Win raised nearly $3 million in the past 12 months, which resulted in not only the new performance center but also hiring new staff, more home games, a nutrition program and enhanced player support.
“When the right resources come together with the right people, it sets the stage for a lot of success both in recruiting and on the court, as well as telling a compelling story of the university,” said Hall. “This philanthropic support has allowed us to get to the next level in some fundamental areas of the programs: mental health care, nutrition, strength and conditioning, facilities. It’s a holistic commitment to the program and athletes but also to the spotlight the program brings to Longwood.”
One of the next steps: taking the Built To Win funding model and applying it to other nonathletics departments on campus.
“It’s a visionary investment model,” said Hodges. “It can work whether you are talking about the College of Business and Economics or the Cormier Honors College or a basketball program. It’s finding those initial folks to make leadership commitments to help accelerate the priorities of the program so that we can achieve them faster.”
The philanthropic momentum is gathering steam already. In 2021, Longwood set giving records outside athletics.
“People are giving more,” said Hodges. “Our annual Love Your Longwood Day and Lancer Giving Madness set records— and that’s money that’s earmarked for Greenwood Library or the College of Education, Health, and Human Services, and various other nonathletics departments. We had both more dollars and more donors for nonathletics philanthropy, and, when you look at how basketball played a role in that, the energy and excitement from Willett Hall really made an impact across the university.”
A ‘SEISMIC SHIFT’ IN GAME DAY
More than a boon for the university as a whole, the success of the basketball program means more attention on the community. The showcase for that community for four decades has been Willett Hall, which is playing home to the Lancers for one final season before the team’s transition to the new Joan Perry Brock Center, which is taking shape next door.
The new arena, already known as “JPB,” will elevate Longwood’s facilities to among the best in Virginia and be a space for celebratory cheers, raucous chanting and community togetherness.
“Willett Hall is unequivocally the toughest place to play in the Big South,” said Aldrich. “I think there’s no doubt that we are getting a huge competitive advantage from the support of the students but just as importantly from the community. There’s an electricity when you walk in and the building is buzzing. In fact, one opposing coach last year joked that he wanted to call the fire marshal to cut down on the number of fans. It’s a special environment that is actually very rare across the college basketball landscape.”
In my time here, I’ve talked to people who have differing views on politics, religion, all sorts of things. But the one thing they all stand around and talk about is Longwood basketball and Longwood University.Tim Hall, Director of Athletics Tweet This
One of the most ardent backers of the basketball program is Mayor David Whitus ’83, a season ticket holder who is in the stands with his scarf at every home game.
“More attention on Longwood basketball means more opportunities to showcase our community,” said Whitus. “There’s been a seismic shift over the last few years on game days—people will stop you on the street to ask when you’re getting to the game or whether you want to grab a bite to eat downtown before heading to Willett. I heard from so many people after the Selection Sunday show that they were proud we had the loudest roar of any of the 68 teams to make the tournament. That kind of energy and spirit are the lifeblood of a community, and we have it in spades.”
From watercoolers to restaurant tables, the Lancers are the talk of the town. From the women’s tipoff on Nov. 7 until the final buzzer for the men on Feb. 25, Longwood basketball is the ticket to have in Farmville.
“In my time here, I’ve talked to people who have differing views on politics, religion, all sorts of things. But the one thing they all stand around and talk about is Longwood basketball and Longwood University,” said Hall. “That’s a testament to the relationship people have with their university. And seeing that higher level of regional and national attention further legitimizes how folks believe and feel about their university and their town. There are a lot of really great things going on here, and, when attention is paid to the university in whatever capacity, everything benefits.”
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