SCHENECTADY — Deshon Burgess and Wade McNamara push each other to get better when they practice with the Union College basketball team.
There will be times when the senior guards butt heads. But that what makes them a perfect tandem for the Dutchmen.
Once practice is done, Burgess and McNamara leave the competition on the court. The two great friends are a big reason why the Dutchmen (16-10) are making their first NCAA Division III basketball tournament appearance since 2005. Union will take on Wesleyan at the first round of the tournament today at 5:30 p.m. at the University of Rochester. (In the other first-round game, Rochester faces Albertus Magnus. The winners advance to Saturday’s second-round game at Rochester.)
Burgess leads the Dutchmen in scoring with a 19.8 points per game average. McNamara is second at 15.6.
“That competitive streak makes them who they are as players,” Union coach Chris Murphy said. “They don’t like to lose, whether it’s a drill, whether it’s a sprint, whether it’s a scrimmage situation. Both of them want to win.
“Having your leaders that competitive kind of rubs off on the rest of your team. They’ve been like that since [they were] freshmen. We’re lucky enough, in a sense, to get guys with that type of nature. When your best players are some of your best competitors, that bodes well for your team’s success.”
For Burgess, getting to the NCAAs with McNamara means everything to him. But they know the job isn’t finished.
“I talk with Wade every day,” Burgess said. “He was my roommate my sophomore year. We stayed in the same dorm coming in freshman year, so we’ve been really close. The one thing that we talk about is just not settling. We know we hadn’t won a Liberty League championship since 2005, which is a huge accomplishment.
“But we just don’t want to settle for that. We want to make some noise in the NCAA tournament and win some games.”
McNamara has enjoyed being friends and teammates with Burgess.
“By far, he’s been one of my closest friends at Union,” McNamara said. “But then again, he’s been one of my toughest competitors. We push each other in practice. There’s times when he’s taken over in practice, there’s times when I’ve taken over practice and then there’s times when we’re just going head to head.
“We clash because we both have strong personalities on the court. But he is an incredible competitor and an incredible player on the court, and we push each other. When you have two guys going head to head, it kind of elevates the team play a lot.”
Burgess enjoys the battles with McNamara. He is hoping that there will be more to come this month.
“He’s a competitor,” Burgess said. “I spent spring break with him my sophomore year, and we just stayed in the gym getting each other better. Whether it’s on or off the court, he’s going to compete. It just makes me get better, and it helps the team at the end of the day.”
SKIDMORE FACES NJCU
Union isn’t the only Capital Region area men’s basketball team to be playing in the tournament.
Skidmore (19-7), the Liberty League regular-season champions, take on New Jersey City University (21-7) at 5 p.m. today at Babson.
The Thoroughbreds received an at-large bid. They were upset in the Liberty League semifinal by fourth-seeded Hobart 70-65.
It’s the third straight year Skidmore has made the NCAAs, and fifth in seven years.
“It’s great,” Skidmore coach Joe Burke said. “It never gets old. . . . We’re on quite a run.”