One last ride

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One last ride

Courtesy: Quinnipiac Athletics

Courtesy: Quinnipiac Athletics

Courtesy: Quinnipiac Athletics

Courtesy: Quinnipiac Athletics

Kevin Higgins, Men's Basketball Beat Reporter

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“You ready for senior day?”

“No.”

Senior Abdulai Bundu’s response couldn’t have been faster.

“My mind is telling me, ‘you’re gonna cry’. It’s either going to be before the game or after the game.”

It’s not uncommon to hear that from a player who’s given their heart and soul to a program over four years.

One of four seniors on the Quinnipiac Bobcats’ men’s basketball team being honored this Sunday on Senior Day, Bundu has seen the program rise from the bottom to the top during his time there.

To put things into perspective: last year, the Virginia Cavaliers, who entered the NCAA Tournament as the top team in the nation, won 31 games. Well, Quinnipiac also won 31 games – over the previous three years combined.

This year, the Bobcats already sit at 16-12, halving their win total over those past three seasons, and are tied for second in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) with the potential for a conference title run.

It’s been a long time coming.

“We’ve been through the struggle,” senior guard Andrew Robinson explained. “So to experience winning for the first time… it’s that much more special for us… to see all of our hard work over these four years come to fruition.”

Though Quinnipiac has seen its fortunes change, this isn’t your classic story of a coaching staff and team that finally found its footing after many trying years: it’s quite the opposite, really.

After a rough 2016-17 season that featured just 10 wins, the administration felt a change was necessary.

The whole coaching staff was let go, and the school took a chance on one Baker Dunleavy, who played and was an assistant coach at a highly successful Villanova program, but had never been a head coach before. Over less than two years’ time, the results have been better than anyone could’ve hoped for.

After a 12-win regular season last year, Quinnipiac won its opening MAAC tournament game against Siena, then pulled off a massive upset against second-seeded Canisius to reach the semifinals, where its magical run ended.

This year, the Bobcats look ready to take the next step, and Dunleavy knows how crucial the seniors have been to his team’s success.

“For me, I’m really grateful for what they’ve contributed,” Dunleavy lauded. “They split two years between coaching staffs… I think they’ve really bridged a gap from one staff to another… and helped our program reach the point where it is right now.”

“It’s changed big time,” Bundu said of the evolution of the team and program. “Everything is so different. But I think different is good.”

You know what else is good? Cam Young.

Young, a graduate student, has been hands-down the best player in the entire conference this season, averaging just over 23 points a game to lead both the Bobcats and the MAAC. The ultimate scoring guard, Young has thrived under the Dunleavy regime.

After playing for a total of eight minutes before the new staff came in, Young now terrorizes MAAC opponents on a nightly basis, highlighted by an incredible 55-point outburst at Siena on February 17 in a 107-100 triple overtime win. The point total was the most by a Division I player over the past 10 seasons.

Despite this jaw-dropping stat line, accompanied by many others, Young credited his performance to his coaching staff.

“Not really,” Young said when asked if he’d thought about his individual impact. “I think it’s all attributed to the coaches… I think that’s why we’ve been able to be more successful this year.”

With his college days numbered, Young had a simple request as to what he wants his Quinnipiac legacy to be.

“Leave it better than I came,” Young said.

Does Young believe he has done so?

A sly smile grew on the face of his normally business-like expression.

“For sure.”

It’s easy to evaluate the performance of a class by looking at the box scores. Wins, points, rebounds, assists, or whatever advanced stats you’d like to add in certainly play a part. But arguably more important is what they do without the basketball in their hands.

Whether it’s tending to a younger generation of Bobcats that need leading, or finding other ways to impact the school or community, a large part of a senior’s legacy will be judged by everything they’ve done outside the lines.

“We try to lead by example,” Bundu said, “In the weight room, staying positive… just try to keep a strong attitude. That’s one thing we pride ourselves on, being the seniors of this team.”

“Me, Andrew, (Abdulai) and Cam have been able to leave our mark on the community, leave our mark on the university,” senior guard Aaron Robinson said. “We’ve been able to get involved in a lot of stuff, meet a lot of people… and I think our impact off the court is just as important as our impact that we’ve made on the court.”

Obviously, seniors who have been through the highs and lows together over the course of four years (or in Young’s case, three) will have an everlasting bond, almost like brothers. However, there are actual brothers in this class who have been side-by-side since birth.

Aaron and Andrew Robinson are twins, and their experience is unparalleled by almost any other in college basketball. For them, this year isn’t a culmination of three or four years of friendship and memories – it’s the culmination of an entire existence of them.

“It means a lot, man,” Andrew said. “We’ve done a lot over our lifetime together. Just having this and everything under our belt that we’ve done together… hopefully we can finish it out on top.”

“Not many schools gave me a chance,” Aaron said. “Being able to come here and have a chance to play Division I basketball with my brother… a dream that we’ve had since we were young… I could never really put into words how grateful I am… it’s just meant the world to me.”

While it’s easy to wrap up the story here and say that there’ll be a happy ending when Senior Day comes along, these Bobcats don’t want that. After finally getting their first taste of success this season, they’re hungry for more.

As a parting gift, these seniors want to take Quinnipiac to a place it has never been before – the NCAA Tournament.

“If we’re lucky enough to reach our goals at the end of the season, to be able to be the first team to be able to go to the NCAA Tournament in the history of Quinnipiac…” Aaron said excitedly before continuing. “It would be extremely special.”

“The main goal is to win the MAAC,” Young declared. “To get to the NCAA Tournament.”

It’s been the journey from a wide-eyed freshman to a grizzled vet, from the new kid to the leader. It’s been the long hours in the gym lifting weights. It’s been working from before the sun rises until long after its set, taking extra free throws and jumpers for practice. It’s been the long climb from the cellar of the conference all the way to the peak.

To say the least, it’s been… well, Aaron Robinson said it best, while flashing his trademark smile that’s greeted every player, coach and media member that’s come his way over the last four years.

“Everything.”

Quinnipiac will host Manhattan on Sunday at 2:00 for Senior Day, honoring both Robinsons, Bundu and Young.