Flashback to the months before the 2014-15 season, and guard Divine Myles had yet to suit up for the Stetson Hatters. The incoming freshman chose the rebuilding Hatters over a slew of other programs, and was looking to make an impact from the outset of his time in Deland, FL.
The last two seasons haven’t gone as planned for Myles or the Hatters. While Myles has asserted himself as one of the top guards in the Atlantic Sun Conference, the team hasn’t had the success that many have been hoping for.
Towards the end of the 2015-16 season, fans were given a glimpse of what could be on the horizon for the Hatters, as early as the 2016-17 season. Divine Myles is at the forefront of the Hatters’ resurgence, and he’s got big aspirations for the program over the next two seasons.
Simply put, the start of the year didn’t go as planned for the Hatters. Based on the 2014-15 academic year, the team was ineligible for post-season play in 2015-16 due to low APR scorers. They were one of eight teams who weren’t eligible for the post-season.
While the team finished at 4-10 in Atlantic Sun play on the year, they were responsible for pulling arguably the two biggest regular season upsets in Atlantic Sun play. They went on the road to knock off the North Florida Ospreys, then took down the Florida Gulf Coast Eagles on their home floor to close out the regular season.
“When conference play came around, we had a meeting and discussed that it is anyone’s ball game now,” said Myles, reflecting back on the start of Atlantic Sun play. “We told ourselves we are not going to look at our record anymore and just go out and play.”
“That registered into all of our minds and we went out there on the court with a mindset that we were going to give it our all, no matter what the outcome.”
Over the last few games of the season, the Hatters did just that. They closed out the regular season with an 80-73 win over the Eagles in Deland, and that was just the start of things for the Hatters.
With Stetson being ineligible for post-season play, the Atlantic Sun Conference was in a tough spot. They had seven teams for the conference tournament, which created some match-up problems that couldn’t be avoided.
So, the Hatters found themselves in the conference tournament to create an even field. If they were to win the tournament title, then the regular season champion would represent the Atlantic Sun in the NCAA Tournament.
Did being ineligible for the post-season provide the Hatters any extra motivation once they were in the field?
“We wanted to prove to our opponents that we belonged here just like they were,” said Myles. “When we competed, it was more of a personal aspect towards the game because we felt like we were slighted.”
Once the conference tournament kicked off, the Hatters came out with a vengeance. As the 7-seed, they would have had to play every game on the road, unless they advanced to the finals and were playing the 8-seed.
In the quarter-finals, the Hatters were up against the newcomers of the Atlantic Sun, the NJIT Highlanders. Despite playing on the road against a tough opponent, the Hatters showed no nerves and came away with a convincing 82-67 victory over the Highlanders.
From there, the Hatters went on the road for the semi-finals to take on the Lipscomb Bisons. Again, they showed no nerves and advanced to the finals on the heels of a 96-75 blowout of the Bisons.
The finals was a rematch of the regular season finale, as the Hatters paid a visit to Florida Gulf Coast, with the conference title on the line. The Eagles had much more to play for, as a win would get them into the NCAA Tournament.
Unfortunately for the Hatters, all good things come to an end at some point. March 9th was that day for Stetson, as the Eagles were able to squeak out an 80-78 victory in overtime to punch their ticket to the Big Dance.
Coming two points away from the tournament title was undoubtedly heartbreaking, but Myles took it all in stride.
“For myself, it was a surreal moment during our tourney run,” said Myles. “For us to have an okay regular season, and then when tournament time came, just taking our game to another level shows that we are physically and, more importantly, mentally tough to do what we did.”
“I’m extremely proud of my teammates for fighting and showing extreme amounts of toughness for making the historic run we made.”
Their historic run to the tournament finals could be a sign of things to come for the Hatters. All of the major contributors from last year’s team are back for another go-round in 2016-17 which is a great sign for head coach Corey Williams and his staff.
Here’s a list of who’s on tap to return in 2016-17, along with their 2015-16 stat line:
Derick Newton: 16.3 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 1.4 apg
Divine Myles: 13.5 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 4.2 apg
Brian Pegg: 12.6 pgp, 9.8 rpg, 1.0 bpg
Luke Doyle: 9.8 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 1.6 apg
Grant Lozoya: 7.4 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 1.6 apg
Angel Rivera: 6.4 ppg, 2.1 rpg, 4.4 apg
With a slew of talent returning, the Hatters are looking to get back to where they ended up this past year.
“We are going to work extremely hard to get back in the same position we were in this past year,” said Myles, when asked what fans can expect next season. “We will give it our best to win a championship for our beloved school and fans across the nation next year, and make it to the NCAA Tournament.”
When people think of mid-major basketball powerhouse programs, the Stetson Hatters don’t come to mind. In the Atlantic Sun Conference, they are often overshadowed by the likes of North Florida, Florida Gulf Coast, and now NJIT.
However, if last season proved anything, the Hatters are a team on the rise and the rest of the conference should be on the lookout. The end of last season could have been a preview as to what the Hatters are capable of, and with an extra year of experience under their belts, they could have even more in store in 2016-17.
Divine Myles is truly a “Miracle Worker”, and with his teammates by his side, he has big plans for the team next season, and beyond.