After months of scandals, Oral Roberts' NCAA bid proves a bright spot Print
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Monday, 17 March 2008 00:00
NCAAB Headline News


 TULSA, Okla. (AP) -For most of the past five months, students at tiny Oral Roberts University were used to seeing their evangelical school grabbing the headlines for all the wrong reasons.
Now that the basketball team has made the NCAA tournament, fans and alumni hope it provides a desperately needed bright spot.
The Golden Eagles (24-8) earned a No. 13 seed in the South Region on Sunday and will face No. 4 seed Pittsburgh (26-9) in the first round.
``We've shocked some folks before, and I look forward to shocking the world Thursday,'' coach Scott Sutton told the hundreds of fans clad in the school's colors of gold, white and blue who gathered on campus Sunday to watch the selection show.
It's the third consecutive year ORU will be in the tournament. But the trip this season couldn't have come at a better time, students and alumni say.
``There was such a negative culture on campus,'' recalled 1989 alumna Joleen Minyard, who attended the selection show watch party.
Only a semester ago, a financial scandal rocked the 5,700-student campus in south Tulsa.
A lawsuit brought by three former ORU professors accused former school president Richard Roberts of misspending school funds to bankroll a lavish lifestyle at a time when the university faced more than $50 million in debt.
Roberts was accused of spending school funds on shopping sprees, a stable of horses for his family and a Bahamas trip for his daughter and her friends aboard a university jet.
He resigned as president in November amid the accusations, and has repeatedly denied wrongdoing.
As the school hobbled along, its exploits played out on newspaper front pages and on national television, ORU's basketball team kept its head down and kept winning.
``It had no effect on us at all,'' said Moses Ehambe, who helped ORU earn an automatic NCAA tournament berth with a third straight Summit League tournament title. ``We just kept things out of our heads and just played hard.''
The events off the court didn't appear to faze Sutton either.
``It never affected us,'' he said before the selection show. ``I think our guys took care of business like they were supposed to, they went to class, they practiced and continued to get better.''
The team's will-do attitude seemed to rub off on many of the fans who assembled Sunday: there was no talk of lawsuits or spending scandals, only plotting among students of how they were going to get to Denver to see their team, or whether the Golden Eagles were going to snag a No. 12 or 13 seed. Morale, for a change, was high.
``(The NCAA trip has) definitely taken away some of the negative that was the focus,'' said junior Jacob Briscoe.
Hattie Nero, who sat in the stands with her husband Michael - who's followed ORU basketball since the 1970s - preferred to look at the school's resurgence in a spiritual way.
``I knew God was going to prevail and everything was going to come out OK,'' she said.
Tournament aside, there are brighter days ahead for the school.
Last fall, Oklahoma City businessman Mart Green, founder of a Christian bookstore and office supply chain, stepped in to help bail the school out of the financial muck, donating $70 million. In January, he took over as chairman of a new board of trustees.
But when it got rocky, some students credit this year's tournament-bound team for giving them a reason to believe in their school again.
``You often hear about a sports team dragging the school down,'' Minyard said. ``Here, it's actually holding the school together.''
 

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