The schedule is from hell, but Presbyterian is loving life in D-I   

Updated: December 24, 2007, 12:00 PM ET

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CLINTON, S.C. -- One or two at a time, the 12 members of the Presbyterian College men's basketball team lugged multiple blue and black bags -- over their shoulders, under their arms, on wheels behind them -- out of the Templeton Center and onto the Champion Coach team bus. It was a few minutes before 4, Thursday afternoon, the final day of final exams for the fall semester.

Presbyterian Practice

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The Blue Hose at practice last Wednesday, just before leaving for Ohio State.

The players were dragging their feet a bit, understandably. Most of them recently had wrapped up a spirited two-hour practice, while a couple of them had just come out of their last exam. And they had a lot of bags. A lot of bags. But you couldn't accuse them of overpacking. They were going to be gone for 11 nights.

After depositing their cargo in the luggage compartment, most of the players lingered outside the bus, engaging in small talk. It was unseasonably warm -- almost 80 degrees -- and the players seemed to be reveling in a final few moments of fresh air.

"Pat, you know when we get off that bus in Columbus, it's gonna be extremely cold," Presbyterian coach Gregg Nibert said to his senior shooting guard and co-captain, Pat Kiscaden, who was wearing only a white T-shirt. "Yeah, I've got stuff on the bus," Kiscaden replied.

"I ain't gonna let a little snow bother me," said sophomore small forward Walt Allen, also clad in a white T-shirt, as he dug through his duffel bag.

A few minutes later, everyone was accounted for. "All right, let's go," Nibert said. Everyone piled on board, and soon the bus was pulling out of the parking lot, onto I-26 West.

While the vast majority of Presbyterian's students were heading home for the holidays, the men's basketball team was on a nine-hour bus ride to Columbus, Ohio. Back on the road -- 561 miles -- just the latest leg on their most unique journey, the longest journey in Division I this year.

Twelve states. Fifteen conferences. Thirteen thousand miles. That's the road from Division II to Division I. At least, that's Presbyterian's road.

As the saying goes, no rest for the weary. Or the Blue Hose.

Presbyterian Campus

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The entrance to the campus of Presbyterian College, one of the top liberal arts schools in the country.

Presbyterian College is a small liberal arts school founded in 1880 in Clinton, S.C. -- a quaint city of 10,000 people in the northwest portion of the state. You could determine the length of the main drag in town with a decent tape measure. The biggest landmarks in Clinton are the monument to "Our Confederate Heroes" in the town square and the McDonald's golden arches, the tallest object in town.

Clinton is best known for being the home of Presbyterian and its picturesque 240-acre campus littered with gorgeous red-brick buildings in the Georgian style. The school has just 1,200 students -- the Carnegie Foundation has designated it one of the most selective liberal arts colleges in the nation. But athletics is a major component of campus life. Presbyterian has 16 sports teams -- eight men's and eight women's.

And yes, their team nickname is the Blue Hose.

But before your mind enters the gutter, know that "Blue Hose" is the same as "Red Sox" or "White Sox." Back in 1915, Presbyterian athletic director Walter Johnson changed the college's sports teams' primary color to blue and had the players start wearing blue jerseys and stockings. Presbyterian's teams became known as the "Blue Stockings," and over the years, that was shortened to "Blue Hose," which was officially adopted as the school's moniker in 1954.


Kieran Darcy for

Can't miss the Confederate monument in Clinton, S.C.

"Yeah, everywhere we go, everyone asks, 'What's a Blue Hose?'" Allen says. "Sometimes they say stuff like, 'Hey, I got a blue hose out in my garage.' I just laugh at it. It don't really get on my nerves."

The nickname isn't Presbyterian's only claim to fame. It also has the largest bronze statue of a Scotsman in the world. His name is Cyrus, and he resides outside the school's football stadium. Presbyterian's mascot is a Scotsman -- think "Braveheart" -- because Clinton was first settled by Scotch-Irish immigrants, two decades before the Revolutionary War.

Presbyterian's men's basketball team has been rather successful over the years. In Nibert's 18 years at the helm, the Blue Hose have enjoyed 15 winning seasons. In 1993, the Blue Hose made the NAIA tournament in Kansas City. The school moved to NCAA Division II and made four NCAA Division II tournament appearances, the latest in 2006.

So why are the Blue Hose on a bus headed to Ohio State?

About a decade ago, Presbyterian's coaches and administrators began discussing another move, to Division I. They had seen nearby schools of similar size, like Wofford, Elon and Gardner-Webb, make the transition and have some success. They felt Presbyterian could do the same, and it probably would be in their best interest to try.

Templeton Center

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The Templeton Center, home of the Blue Hose. Notice the sports statues -- Presbyterian is so athletically inclined, there are statues representing the various sports spread all over campus.

"We were losing kids [who lived] 30-45 minutes away to schools that were 2-3 hours away, because of the allure of Division I," Nibert says. "The fact is, nowadays kids just want [to play] D-1 more, with how big the NCAA Tournament has become. I knew we had a great product here. But our name wasn't getting out there."

When current Presbyterian athletic director William B. Carlton took the job in July 2003, his first order of business was developing a plan for a potential jump to Division I. In the spring of 2004, Presbyterian launched a two-year study, analyzing all aspects of the transition -- everything from funding to facilities -- and devising a comprehensive plan. And in the spring of 2006, Presbyterian's board of trustees accepted the proposal and made a formal application to the NCAA.

Nibert, now 50 years old, was excited about the move. "Back a few years ago, when my kids were young, I felt I was in a good situation, I was happy the way things were," he says. "I could go home for dinner every night with my wife. And who'd wanna get wrapped up in D-1 and risk getting fired?

"But things are different now. I can really give myself to this. And it's such a neat opportunity."

Presbyterian was very fortunate. So many schools have applied to join Division I the past few years that the NCAA issued a four-year moratorium on new applications earlier this year. Presbyterian also was fortunate because, almost immediately, it joined a conference -- often very difficult for new D-1 programs to do. The Big South -- currently home to Charleston Southern, Coastal Carolina, High Point, Liberty, North Carolina-Asheville, Radford, Virginia Military Institute and Winthrop -- accepted Presbyterian into its fold two days after Presbyterian announced its move to Division I.


Kieran Darcy for

There he is, Cyrus, the largest bronze statue of a Scotsman in the world.

"The members felt they were a good fit for the conference, including first and foremost their academic profile; they got an A-plus there," Big South commissioner Kyle Kallander says. "We also looked at their commitment to Division I, from a resource standpoint, and we were very comfortable that they were committed to being competitive at the Division I level."

Presbyterian will begin playing a full Big South conference schedule next season, even though it won't be eligible for the Big South tournament or the NCAA Tournament until the 2011-12 season (the reclassification process takes five years). But for Year 1, Nibert had to devise his team's schedule all by himself. He was faced with the following challenge: How do you make your school some much-needed money for its athletics program, get recruits interested in joining your program and take care of your veteran players -- who are about to go from being consistent Division II winners to consistent Division I losers -- all at the same time?

The solution? You devise the schedule from hell.

Five home games. Twenty-five road games. Four ACC opponents. Three SEC opponents. Throw in a Big 12 team and a Big Ten team, just for good measure.

When Nibert mailed the schedule to his returning players this past summer, the response was, well, predictable. "I didn't know what coach was thinking, to tell you the truth," Allen says.

"I thought he was crazy," Kiscaden says. "I told all my family and friends, and they thought he was crazy, too."

I-26 WEST EXIT NO. 32B/CANTON/KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Nineteen minutes. That's all the time it took to pick up 24 Wendy's combo meals, plus 24 Frosties, and get back on the highway headed toward Columbus.

Presbyterian doesn't have enough money in its budget yet to employ a coordinator of basketball operations -- a standard position in most D-1 programs. So Ronny Fisher, the associate head coach, has to handle things like team meals. But he's got it down to a science. About an hour into the journey from Clinton to Columbus, Fisher passed a yellow notepad around the bus, and each player and staff member signed up for the Wendy's combo meal of his or her choice. (The Baconator and the Spicy Chicken Sandwich were particularly popular.) Fisher already had picked out a specific Wendy's along the route, right off the highway near Knoxville. He ordered all the meals over the phone, about 90 minutes in advance, so they would be ready to go when the bus arrived. That way, the bus would barely need to stop on the long trek to Ohio State.

Pat Kiscaden

Presbyterian College

Pat Kiscaden, who came to Presbyterian because he wanted to win, is now experiencing losing, but on a grand stage.

This season has been a big adjustment for the veteran Presbyterian players and coaches. "I've never traveled like this before in my life," Kiscaden says. "It's harder to keep up with your classes, with your grades and even with sleep. We used to take a bus everywhere and be back on the same night. It's hard being on the road four or five days at a time, and changing time zones."

The other thing they have had to adjust to? Losing. The Blue Hose were coming off back-to-back 20-win seasons. Heading into the Ohio State game, they were 1-10 -- their lone win coming in their only home game of the season thus far, 62-60 over future Big South conference-mate Radford.

"When I was in high school, I had a chance to go to some small D-1 schools," Kiscaden says. "But they lost a lot, and I wanted to go to a winning program. That's why I came to Presbyterian. So I was kinda skeptical at first, when I found out we couldn't compete for a championship [this year]."

Nibert tried to take care of his three seniors by scheduling games near each of their hometowns. Kiscaden is from Oviedo, Fla. -- so Nibert scheduled Central Florida. Center Martynas Versinkas is from Lithuania but went to high school near Winston-Salem, N.C. -- so Nibert scheduled Wake Forest. And guard Ryan Lamb is from Hiram, Ga. -- Nibert was able to schedule both Georgia and Georgia Tech.

The players have enjoyed the opportunities thus far. "I've gotta admit, it's a lot of fun playing in these big arenas, in front of thousands of people," Kiscaden says.

The schedule has worked on other fronts, too. Presbyterian has made $650,000 in guaranteed money from the major-conference schools it has scheduled this season. And recruiting is going well, too. Nibert has already signed three very good players for next season. And current freshman point guard Pierre Miller signed with Presbyterian without even visiting the school. "When I found out they were going D-1 and heard some of the teams they were going to play, that's all I needed to know," Miller says. "On my wall in my room, I had written, 'I want to play Division I' as one of my goals. And to play against schools like Ohio State and Clemson, that's like every little kid's dream."

Pierre Miller

Presbyterian College

Pierre Miller signed with Presbyterian without even visiting the school. He just wanted to make his dream of playing Division I come true.

Don't let Presbyterian's win-loss record fool you. The Blue Hose have been in almost every game. For instance, in their first-ever Division I contest, at Nebraska, they fell behind 43-16 before halftime but rallied back in the second half, shooting 10-of-15 from 3-point range after intermission, before falling 67-52. And on Nov. 21 at No. 22 Clemson, the Blue Hose trailed by only three points, 56-53, late in the second half before succumbing 74-57.

"This is the only time in my career where there are moral victories," Nibert says. "The scores don't indicate how we've played. For us, doing what we're doing in our first year, we're awfully proud."

"We found out early we can play with all these teams," Kiscaden says. "We're not scared anymore. We're gonna upset a big-time team."

Would it be the Buckeyes? The Blue Hose certainly were hoping so. That's why, when the bus finally pulled into the Hilton Garden Inn in Columbus at 1:25 a.m., after Fisher had checked everyone in and distributed the room keys, it was bedtime right away.

On Friday, there was work to be done.

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- A few minutes before 10 Friday morning -- less than eight and a half hours after arriving in town -- the Blue Hose took the floor at the empty 19,049-seat Value City Arena for practice.

Presbyterian Practice

Kieran Darcy for

The Blue Hose, practicing in front of 19,049 empty seats.

When the players first walked onto the court at Nebraska's Bob Devaney Sports Center, some of them brought cameras and took pictures -- and that was right before the game! But the Presbyterian players didn't look like tourists anymore Friday morning. They did, however, look very excited. Lamb's smile was so wide, his face looked like it was about to break.

"Didn't think you'd ever be playing here, did ya?" Nibert muttered in Kiscaden's ear.

Even the coach looked thrilled -- a native of nearby Grove City, Ohio, and a former Division III player, Nibert grabbed a ball and drove in for a layup himself before getting practice under way.

Nibert's enthusiasm is infectious, to put it mildy. The man is a human self-esteem steroid. He eggs his players on, practically non-stop, all practice long -- short on admonishment, long on admiration. Over the course of two hours, you are guaranteed to hear a handful of "Attaboys," a healthy amount of "Way to gos," and a whole heaping of his favorite catchphrase, "That's awesome!" -- all tinged with his endearing Southern drawl.

After a made shot? "That's awesome!" A crisp pass? "Awesome!" A backdoor cut? "Oh man, that's so friggin' awesome!"

"Coach is great," Kiscaden says. "He demands the best of us. And he knows how to push us."

Gregg Nibert, Ronny Fisher

Presbyterian College

Gregg Nibert (left) is the leader of the program, while Ronny Fisher (right), in addition to assisting Nibert, makes sure everything runs smoothly behind the scenes.

On Friday evening, Nibert received more praise. He was the guest of honor at a banquet back in Grove City -- the mayor had declared Friday "Gregg Nibert Day" in honor of Nibert's success during his coaching career. His players and coaching staff also attended.

"Never in my wildest dreams did I think I'd bring a Presbyterian team into Columbus to play the Buckeyes," Nibert says. "This is all such a blessing. It's a dream come true."

But following the banquet, it was back to work. The Blue Hose had a 45-minute film session at 9 p.m. back at the Hilton, where they watched tape from three of Ohio State's previous games.

After assistant coach Justin Smith finished breaking down the strengths and weaknesses of Ohio State's players, Nibert had a few final words of advice for his team.

"All right, go get yourselves a good night's sleep. 'Cause you're gonna need it. And say your prayers. Because you've got a lot to be thankful for."

When the players took the floor again Saturday morning at 11:35 for pregame warmups, their eyes were focused straight ahead. Not up at John Havlicek's No. 5 or Jerry Lucas' No. 11 or the 2007 Final Four runner-up banner. They ran out and launched straight into layup lines, very business-like -- the same way they had acted for the past three days.

Presbyterian Basketball team huddle

Presbyterian College

The Blue Hose are a tight-knit group, going through this most unique experience together.

Nevertheless, consider the fact that this game pitted the largest university in the United States (60,000 students) against the second-smallest school in Division 1 basketball (only Centenary is smaller).

The largest crowd Presbyterian played in front of last season was 2,887 people. Saturday's paid attendance at Ohio State: 16,569.

Could there be a better recipe for a Cinderella?

And Presbyterian got off to a good start, after Ohio State's pregame pomp and circumstance of video clips and swirling lights. Despite the fact that the Buckeyes were significantly taller at every position, the Blue Hose jumped out to a 3-2 lead with a 3-point play by 6-foot-7 center Al'Lonzo Coleman.

There had been plenty of giggles and snickers from the crowd when the announcer had said, "Today's game features the Blue Hose from Presbyterian College …" during starting lineups. But when Kiscaden buried a 3-pointer to give the Blue Hose a 14-11 lead with 11:36 left in the first half, the crowd actually had to rise up and try to inspire the Buckeyes with applause.

Pierre Miller, Jon Diebler

AP Photo/Jay LaPrete

Miller and Presbyterian did their best to keep up with the Buckeyes ...

"You know, we were feeling pretty good at that time," Kiscaden says. "We were hoping to keep it rolling."

But, predictably, they weren't able to. Ohio State's 7-foot center, Kosta Koufos, started burying shots from all over the floor. Jamar Butler, OSU's 6-1 point guard, began dropping in 3s over the 5-8 Lamb and the rest of Presbyterian's guards.

The Buckeyes ended the first half on a 29-6 run, leading 40-20 at intermission. And they kept it rolling in the second half, cruising to victory by a final margin of 87-43.

Kiscaden shined despite the loss, scoring 18 points by connecting on six of his 11 3-point attempts. "It sucks right now," Kiscaden said after the game. "But it'll be fun to look back on. It'll be a good memory."

"Any smart coach is not going to schedule Ohio State after finals," Nibert said afterward. "But it was a good opportunity for us, and we had to play them when they wanted to play us. It was very difficult. They've got a great team."

Ryan Lamb, Kosta Koufos

AP Photo/Jay LaPrete

... but in the end, Ryan Lamb and company were simply overmatched size-wise by Kosta Koufos and Ohio State.

After the game, there was no time to mope -- not that the Blue Hose are the moping kind. They had a plane to catch -- good thing the game didn't go to overtime! The players threw on their gray team sweatsuits or blue windbreaker warmups, Nibert fulfilled his media obligations, and by 2:28 p.m., the team bus was backing out of Value City Arena, less than two and a half hours after tip-off, headed for Port Columbus International Airport.

Where do they go from here? Well, there's still a lot of work to be done. Raising money will be key. The team needs to add more scholarships, as well as add to its coaching and administrative staff.

Presbyterian won't play quite as intense a schedule next season, since it will have a full slate of Big South games. But it will play Marquette and Georgia, and it likely will play Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium in the first round of the Coaches vs. Cancer preseason tournament.

Nibert has arguably his best recruiting class signed for next season. And he's confident he can sell Presbyterian to a lot more players in the future. "When we were in the NAIA, we went to the national tournament in Kansas City," Nibert says. "When we were D-II, we were nationally ranked and made the Sweet Sixteen. Why wouldn't we be able to do the same at the next level?

"You're gonna come out of Presbyterian with a great degree and a great basketball experience. We might not be eligible for the NCAA Tournament yet. But our goal is to be the first 16-seed to knock off a No. 1, once we can get in that tournament in 2011-2012."

Presbyterian-Ohio State Scoreboard

Kieran Darcy for

Presbyterian 14, Ohio State 11 -- the Blue Hose will never forget that, even if it didn't last.

For now, though, the team was headed for Southwest Flight 3584, scheduled to depart at 4:50 p.m. Presbyterian was flying to Sacramento for a three-game swing through California, playing UC Davis, Fresno State and San Jose State.

It was snowing at the moment, so the bus was moving slowly. But that gave the players time to scarf down the chicken sandwiches, potato chips, brownies and lemonade from Chick-fil-A that Fisher had waiting for them when they boarded the bus.

Just before 3 p.m., the bus pulled up to the departure terminal. The players disembarked, gathered up all their bags and walked inside the terminal. Fisher checked everyone in and distributed the tickets to the players, and they all headed toward Gate A2.

Southwest Flight 3584 isn't a direct flight. It actually makes two stops on the way -- first in Chicago, then in Los Angeles. If all goes according to plan, they'll arrive at 9:55 p.m. Pacific, eight hours and five minutes after departing from Columbus.

But the Blue Hose will get there.

Kieran Darcy is an editor for Page 2. You can e-mail him at


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