Monday night’s historic tilts against men’s and women’s teams from the University of West Florida, one of many future rivals within the Gulf South Conference, were worth the wait.
If anything, these historic games served notice to GSC and NCAA opponents that both the Flames and Lady Flames are prepared for this raising of the athletic bar. Both Lee teams came away with victories — although neither came easily — and now the same young athletes prepare for their second foray into this advanced level of competition.
It happens tonight.
Beginning at 6 p.m. from Paul Dana Walker Arena, the Lady Flames will tip off against Valdosta State University. At 8 p.m., the Flames host the men’s team, a group of young athletes reported to have an appreciable height advantage over their Cleveland-based hosts. And, the Valdosta State lads have yet to be beaten.
In fairness to other sports teams within Lee University athletics, this week’s roundball openers aren’t the school’s first taste of NCAA Division II. Talented Lee teams in ladies volleyball, as well as men’s and women’s soccer, have already enjoyed their first welcomings into the much bigger NCAA.
For any who might ask, “Lee University basketball ... in a newspaper editorial?”
It is not the first time this newspaper has shown our support for Lee University athletics, and especially the transition into NCAA Division II, not so very long ago. Already nationally and internationally recognized for its fine academic programs, Lee is making an unprecedented jump athletically.
This week, the school’s basketball squads face a couple of challenging leaps if each expects to claim a second GSC victory in as many games.
We wish them well, and so does the Cleveland and Bradley County community.
And that brings us to today’s point. In observance of its basketball entry into the NCAA, Lee University is hosting what it bills Community Appreciation Week.
It started with Monday night’s games against West Florida. It continues tonight against Valdosta State.
In order to properly introduce Cleveland basketball fans to NCAA Division II, and to introduce the Gulf South Conference to Cleveland, Lee University is inviting area residents to drop in for this week’s Walker Arena games.
As an incentive, adult tickets are half price ($3). Even more compelling, all students high school age and under are being admitted free. It’s a big league deal and it’s happening only during Community Appreciation Week.
For area residents who want to attend, but who are a little leery of the traditional Lee student crowd, here’s another incentive. It’s Christmas break on the university campus. That means most students have headed off in separate directions — many to cities and states far away — to share the holidays with their families.
Subsequently, Walker Arena’s spacious dimensions likely will afford more available seating than normal. It’s a perfect reason to spend a Thursday night in a festive university environment. The ticket price can’t be matched, and we figure the aroma of fresh popcorn and the tickle of cold beverages that fizzle by night or day will add to the draw.
Those who have never enjoyed the pleasure of Flames and Lady Flames basketball in person are in for a treat. These aren’t second-class athletes. All are the real deal.
For the record, the Flames enter tonight’s contest at 5-2, having won their first GSC matchup Monday night in an exciting 82-76 heart thumper over West Florida. Valdosta State remains undefeated at 7-0 and the team is ranked No. 25 nationally in D-II.
The Lady Flames stand at 5-2 after downing West Florida, 58-53. The Valdosta State women bring a 5-1 tally to the table.
Here’s how Lee athletic director Larry Carpenter described Community Appreciation Week, “These four games will provide area fans with an opportunity to see some outstanding college basketball on both the men’s and women’s sides. It’s the holiday season and we would like to show our teams that we have a solid following even though the majority of our students have already departed for the Christmas break.”
Want to make your typical Thursday evening a little atypical?
Head on over to Walker Arena on the Lee University campus. We believe you’ll like what you see.
And just this final note ... Go FLAMES and LADY FLAMES!