Prior to its trip to Orlando for the first round of the 2017 NCAA Tournament, the Xavier men’s basketball team got a visit from former Musketeers standout point guard Lionel Chalmers.
A 2015 inductee into the Xavier University Athletic Hall of Fame, Chalmers led the Musketeers on their deepest run in the NCAA Tournament, the 2004 Elite Eight, a feat that was later matched by the 2008 squad, which is something this year’s team would like to add to its resume.
“It means a lot, especially he was the first to take the school to the Elite Eight,” junior guard Trevon Bluiett said. “His situation was kind of like ours, facing a lot of adversity throughout the season, how the season played out.
“Just to hear from him and give us a message, and basically the message being so simple as just paying attention to detail, going out and having fun, it means a lot. I think it puts a lot of confidence into us to know that he believes in us and thinks that we can do the same thing he did.”
Xavier Musketeers embrace journey to latest NCAA Tournament appearance
At one point in mid-January, it seemed as though Xavier was lost on the court and would play its way out of NCAA Tournament contention.
But after losses to conference foes in Villanova, Butler and Creighton, whom hold Nos. 1, 4 and 6 seeds in other brackets of the NCAA Tournament, the Musketeers righted the ship and won five of their next six outings.
And like Bluiett, Gaston drew plenty of motivation from Chalmers’ visit.
“For me personally, I felt it to be real inspirational, being a senior,” Gaston said. “I think he was a senior when he took the team to the Elite Eight as well. Like Trevon said, his team also faced a lot of adversities, like ours did this year.
“Just to see them coming together, stay locked in, and not really focus on the outside of the locker room and to be able to really turn the season around is really good. He made a good point where he said, ‘People really only remember how you finish. They don’t care what happens during the regular season.’”
A six-game losing streak sent Xavier into the Big East Tournament reeling, but the Musketeers rebounded with a double-digit win over DePaul, and then, knocked off the No. 2 seed in the tournament, Butler, before dropping a three-point decision to Creighton.
“We’ve had a lot of adversity this year, and we went through a tough stretch,” junior guard J.P. Macura said. “I think we all came together and really focused in and really worked hard, and we strung together a few wins, and I think that’s going to help us in the tournament here.”