Oral’s Manuel Roberts Chucks, dancing in the March Madness history books


INDIANAPOLIS – The Oral Roberts University Code of Conduct recognizes that opinions vary among Christians about dance.

“However,” the textbook states, “the following official policy of the University has been established: Social dancing is not permitted on campus.”

But several hundred miles from the Tulsa, Oklahoma campus, whose landmark is a 60-foot-tall pair of praying hands, her basketball team dances like they’ve never danced before, dancing up to at Sweet 16 next week and very much Cinderella’s story of the greatest dance of all.

Oral Roberts, a school of 2,800 undergraduates founded by one of America’s early televangelists whose basketball program is best known for launching Bill Self’s career as head coach, has only become the second No.15 seed in the NCAA men’s tournament to reach the second weekend. To do so, the Golden Eagles beat Ohio State and Florida, two of the true behemoths of varsity athletics, making their way to a pair of three-point wins.

For a team that was the No. 4 seed in the Summit League tournament a few weeks ago, that’s not only unlikely – it’s such an incalculable goal it would only register- above zero because it’s a tournament crazy enough that it can happen every once in a while.

“Honestly, I’ve been telling the guys all year that not only were we going to win the conference tournament, but that we were going to win several games in the NCAA,” said Oral Roberts coach Paul Mills. “We’re talking about winning in March in November. These are the things that have to happen to win in March, and there is a graph that we show once a week: this is what it takes and there are times in practice when one of them take care of the ball and I’m going to ask, ‘Have you ever been to March Madness? Do you understand that you cannot make that turnover? “

“Now they’re going to have an answer, so that’s pretty cool. This is what you want.”

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It’s one thing to say that with a bunch of players in the middle of a two-hour training session in November, it’s quite another when the bracket comes out and the reward for winning an Auto Bid is playing against an Ohio State team with a roster full of guys who would never have answered a recruit call from Oral Roberts.

Then, once you’ve pulled off this miracle like a handful of teams in the history of this tournament, how do you come back and keep that edge 48 hours after you’ve become America’s darling? There’s a reason why, of the handful of No.15 seeds who won first-round games, only the 2013 Florida Gulf Coast phenomenon had survived week two.

And in this case, it wasn’t like Oral Roberts got to play a mid-major who also caused a surprise in the first round. They were the Florida Gators of the mighty SEC, a team with tournament pedigree and an NBA outlook.

Despite all this, Oral Roberts still stunned us.

“Like I said to the guys, we’re not going to let somebody put a number in front of our name and tell us that’s our worth, our worth,” Mills said. “We’re not capitulating to anyone here and after winning against Ohio State, I told them, ‘You’ve got the bus back to answer the texts, and there are obviously media obligations, but that needs to be sorted out quickly. . ‘”

Now Oral Roberts will have to figure out how to handle another unprecedented week of attention, some of which may not be entirely flattering when it comes to the university itself.

Since its founding in 1963, the school has been a lightning rod for controversy. In January 1987, Oral Roberts locked himself in a prayer tower on campus and told his followers he would be called home by God if he didn’t raise $ 8 million by March. Ultimately, he outdid himself as the basketball team that would represent him later, raising over $ 9 million.

Twenty years later, allegations of financial irregularities forced his son Richard Roberts, who had succeeded his father as president of the university, to a disorderly resignation.

In recent years, stories have arisen alleging discrimination against college students who identify as LGBTQ – Oral Roberts has a strict code of conduct that prohibits “all homosexual behavior and sex before marriage” – including one in 2018 in which a former student said he was subjected to attempts at conversion therapy.

It doesn’t necessarily have much to do with a giants-killing basketball team taking on Arkansas in the Sweet 16, but the folks representing Oral Roberts aren’t going to run away from it. In fact, just after scoring 28 points against Florida, Oral Roberts forward Kevin Obanor said it was important for a “school that glorifies God” to get that star in March.

“It deserves to be on a higher pedestal,” he said.

But Oral Roberts only deserves it because he won, which is the best thing about the tournament. Whether you are a flagship campus in one of the largest American states or a small evangelical school with a narrowly focused mission, you have your chance here.

In the NCAA tournament, anyone can dance, even if the school may disapprove of it.

Follow USA TODAY Sports columnist Dan Wolken on Twitter @DanWolken.


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