From his home in New York last Thursday night, Keydren Clark watched on TV as his alma mater, Saint Peter’s University beat Kentucky in the biggest upset of this year’s NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. Two days later, Clark was in attendance in Indianapolis as Saint Peter’s won again, beating Murray State and becoming the third No. 15 seed in tournament history to advance to the Sweet 16.
Clark never shied away from getting to this game on such short notice. He knows what a special and unprecedented time this is for Saint Peter’s, a school in Jersey City, NJ, with just over 2,000 students who had never won an NCAA tournament game until the week. last.
Clark is arguably the best player in program history, having scored a school-best 3,058 points from 2002-2006, the ninth-most points in NCAA history. But even though he led the nation in scoring twice, Clark was known almost exclusively to die-hard college basketball fans because Saint Peter never played in the NCAA Tournament while at school.
Now everything has changed. Even non-athletes have heard of Saint-Pierre in recent days. The school received worldwide attention as an underfunded and overlooked team, the Cinderella of this year’s tournament. The Peacocks (21-11) are looking for another upset Friday against No. 3 seed Purdue (29-7) at the East Regional at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, about 95 miles south -west of the Saint Peter campus.
Clark plans to travel to the game in Philadelphia and hopes to reunite with other former teammates who have been texting and marveling at the Peacocks’ run.
“We’re happy for them,” said Clark, who played professionally in Europe for 13 years before retiring in 2019. “We’re thrilled for them. We’re shooting for them. It’s something incredible. We just want these guys to continue living the dream that we couldn’t be a part of. We’re living through them.
Clark and his teammates aren’t alone, as the Saint Peter community has embraced the Peacocks and the school’s unlikely turn in the spotlight. jimmy fallon noted the Peacocks’ win over Kentucky on his “Tonight Show” monologue last Friday night, and broadcast news stations were on campus on weekends and Mondays and aired segments to sports and non-sports fan audiences .
“Most people don’t even know where St. Peter is or that St. Peter existed until Thursday night,” said Joseph McLaughlin, a 1977 graduate of St. Peter’s and professor and chair of the sociology and studies department. urban areas of the school.
He added: “It’s just a joy to see what’s happening now. I can’t even tell you how happy this team has been on campus.
McLaughlin, 69, knows the area and the school very well. Her father graduated from Saint Peter’s in 1943, and McLaughlin grew up about four miles from campus. He has worked as a teacher at Saint Peter’s since 1986 and has been the faculty mentor for the basketball team since 1991. In this role, he works closely with Saint Peter’s coach Shaheen Holloway and his assistants and serves liaison between players and teachers.
McLaughlin describes Saint Peter’s as a close-knit campus that spans two blocks long by one block wide in the middle of a residential neighborhood and where basketball players regularly interact with other students, like in high school hallways.
“You see these (basketball players) in the room, they engage with the faculty, they engage with the other students,” he said. “There is no wall around this team. They are very generous. Now I don’t know how they put up with it. They can’t even cross the quad without some kid rushing up with his camera to take a selfie with him. I guess they appreciate the attention.
Prior to this year, the Peacocks had played in three NCAA tournaments in 1991, 1995 and 2011, but lost in their opener each time.
Until last week, Saint Peter’s enjoyed its best playoff success in the 1967-68 season when it finished 24-4 and beat Duke, 100-71, in the quarter-finals of the National Invitational Tournament at the days when this event was almost as prestigious as the NCAA Tournament. The Peacocks ended up losing to Kansas in the NIT semifinals and to Notre Dame in the third-place game.
“All you heard about was the 67-68 team all the time,” said Bill Stein, a former Georgetown assistant under legendary coach John Thompson before serving as Saint Peter’s athletic director from 1982 until upon his retirement in 2008.
Yet that was before cable television and the Internet, so the national and international reach of this achievement pales in comparison to what is happening today. Stein noted that he’s been in touch with dozens of people through Facebook over the past few days.
“You wouldn’t guess how many of those students at the time sent congratulations to me,” Stein said.
He added: “(Holloway) did a great job with this team. Oh my God. Incredible. Incredible.”
While the long-term financial value of what an NCAA tournament means for a small school remains nebulous, Saint Peter’s has seen an increase in applications from potential students since last week, according to Rachelle Paul, director of athletics at the school. ‘school. Paul added that Saint Peter’s has also seen an increase in merchandise sales, and basketball players are more likely to cash in on their name, image and likeness.
“The value of the exposure that Saint Peter’s has received nationally and globally, you can’t put a price tag on it,” Paul said. “I know some people have tried. Generally speaking, we have contacted a number of people who wish to support men’s basketball, track and field and the University.
This support is much needed, as Saint Peter’s does not have a huge network of alumni who donate to the school or athletic department. Paul wouldn’t divulge specific details about the school’s finances or where the athletics department ranks when it comes to Division 1 budgets. But she said the NCAA considers Saint Peter’s a “resource institution.” limited,” a designation for schools in the bottom 15%. resources of Division 1 in terms of financial resources. This designation excludes all 130 programs in the Football Bowl subdivision, so Saint Peter’s is certainly near the bottom of Division 1.
In fact, according to the U.S. Department of Education’s Equity in Athletics data analysis for the 2019 school year, the Saint Peter men’s basketball team generated $1.57 million in revenue. That compares to $29.31 million for Kentucky and $3.99 million for Murray State, the two teams Saint Peter’s defeated last weekend. Meanwhile, Purdue’s men’s basketball team generated $15.16 million in revenue that year, the most recent data available.
“We do a lot with a little, quite frankly,” Paul said. “It’s kind of a nice energy at a time when we’re still coming out of a pandemic, there are things happening in the world. The people I feel just want to connect and be able to have a really great story of well-being. Saint-Pierre happens to be right now. It’s great to be a part of it.