An internet campaign to get a RedHawk basketball player on ESPN has gone "viral" worldwide . . . and it’s guaranteed to continue for another six days.
Even as a small, private college with an enrollment of just over 1,100 students, Martin Methodist College has always been well connected, not only across the state and nation, but throughout the world with a strong international student population representing some two dozen countries. However, MMC’s connections have never been more apparent than by the results from, of all things, an online basketball competition featuring RedHawk All-America guard James Justice.
The 2012 State Farm College Dark Horse Dunker Competition is a month-long event, started three weeks ago, that will ultimately send one college basketball player to the NCAA Final Four in New Orleans to compete in the State Farm Slam Dunk Championships. The event will be televised on ESPN at 8 p.m. CT on Thursday, March 29.
And James Justice is only five days and a flurry of online votes away from being there.
Twelve of the best collegiate dunkers will compete in the March 29 event, 11 of whom are invited because of their national reputation. The 12th and final participant comes from the Dark Horse Dunker online competition, for which 16 talented players considered "under the radar" were selected. Justice, a 2011 first-team NAIA All-America guard and last year’s TranSouth Conference Player of the Year, was one of only two NAIA players in the group of 16; the other 14 were from NCAA Division I, II or III colleges and universities. Despite being the shortest participant, at 5-foot-9, and from the smallest school, he’s down to the final two contestants, with his votes coming through Facebook from all across the country and around the world.
"The James Justice Dark Horse Dunker phenomenon has taken our campus by storm, and the effect stretches past the campus, into our community, region and beyond," said Dr. Ted Brown, president of Martin Methodist College. "I’ve talked to people in Nashville, Alabama, Florida and even Kansas City who are voting every day."
Votes for James Justice have reportedly come from all over globe, including Mexico, Canada, Brazil, England, Ireland, Scotland, Germany, Russia, Poland, Israel, United Arab Emirates, Pakistan and Australia -- all the results of those international connections that emanate from Martin Methodist’s diverse campus.
"This is very exciting for the campus and for Martin Methodist people everywhere, but it is also exhilarating for anyone who has ever been an underdog," said Brown, who is currently serving as chairman of the NAIA’s Council of Presidents. "I know NAIA coaches and players all over the country are mobilizing because we get frustrated by all the attention constantly going to NCAA institutions and players. There are only shades of difference in the real quality of play between these two associations, and James Justice is proving that. There you go: ‘Justice for the NAIA!’"
The Dark Horse Dunker is structured like a basketball tournament, and a video of each participant is available for viewing when someone goes to the website to vote. Justice has survived three rounds, earning more votes in each weekly competition than his opponents from the University at Buffalo (Sweet 16 round), Lamar University (Elite Eight round), and Campbell University (Final Four round), all NCAA Division I schools.
Now he’s in the finals against David Kyles, a 6-4 guard from Wichita State, currently the 14th-ranked team in the NCAA Top 25. Martin Methodist is ranked sixth nationally in the NAIA rankings.
The daily voting to determine the Dark Horse Dunker champion will end at midday on Monday, March 5. At that point, all of the Martin Methodist College supporters who have been pushing their friends, family and acquaintances to vote will learn whether the viewers of ESPN will get to witness the high-flying acrobatics of James Justice.
So for the next several days, the worldwide connections of Martin Methodist will be all abuzz.
"We have bragged for years that one of the strongest assets of our small college is the international diversity and its blend with our American students," said Jeff Bain, MMC’s director of athletics. "We hope to capitalize on our social melting pot by calling on our RedHawk World from coast to coast and sea to sea, globally, to vote. To win this vote over the next six days will provide the most visible, positive recognition on national TV imaginable. In fact, it’s hard to imagine that we would ever have this kind of opportunity again.
"The odds are stacked against us competing against a (Wichita State University) campus of 15,000, but I love our position and our RedHawk World team, and I personally love the ‘underdog’ role," Bain said. "This is a great opportunity in a most unique challenge, and we are in it to win it!"
To vote, go to http://apps.facebook.com/college_slam/
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