NEW ORLEANS -- When UNO hired head coach Mark Slessinger in June 2011, the program was on life support with little direction.
“We were kind of nomadic, I guess,” Slessinger said at Monday’s press conference in Dayton, Ohio. “Because we didn’t have a conference home or an affiliation, we were in flux in classification for what division we were going to be. I had three student-athletes committed that were staying in the program, and I’m there at my press conference, I didn’t have an assistant. I didn’t have a lot of other things.”
However, despite a bleak outlook at the time, Slessinger went all-in for UNO, the Lakefront, and New Orleans in general as it recovered from the effects of Katrina.
“I’ve got five empty lots still on my block, so things still are never going to be what they were,” Slessinger, who lives in Pontchartrain Park, admitted.
“My father himself, he’s from the Ninth Ward,” said senior guard Nate Frye. “We live in Houma now, and he went to visit his neighborhood and it’s not even there anymore, so to go back and see things like that it just gives us more fight during games. We’re playing for things bigger than just us.”
“There’s a lot of people that this means a lot to that has nothing to do with basketball,” Slessinger added. “It means a lot to them that we’re back and we’re a champion, and the city feels like it’s a champion and the people feel like they’re champions again.”
While this year’s Privateers are champions of both the Southland Conference regular season and the conference tourney, not since 1987 has UNO won a NCAA Tournament game. However, this team knows how special Tuesday night could be, and also understands it has the support of an entire community.
“We’re blessed to have this opportunity,” said senior guard Christavious Gill. “It’s for the city, the program, the university, it’s for everyone in New Orleans who has been in New Orleans.”
“I just know this is one chance to do this,” added senior guard Tevin Broyles, “so we’re just really excited.”
The Privateers tip off against Mount St. Mary at 5:40 p.m. Tuesday on TruTV.