Jacksonville Daily Progress
NACOGDOCHES — What has turned out to be truly a fascinating season of Stephen F. Austin State University men's basketball will continue on later this week at the highest collegiate level possible when the Lumberjacks open play in the NCAA Tournament with a date against Virginia Commonwealth University on Friday in a South Region affair slated to be played in San Diego.
SFA has won its last 28-straight games, including the Southland Conference championship over Sam Houston State by a score of 69-49 on Saturday at the Merrell Center in Katy.
The No.12-seeded Lumberjacks will carry a 31-2 record into the Big Dance, while VCU is seeded fifth.
The Rams finished second in the Atlantic 10, losing to St. Joseph's in the post-season tournament final.
Five Lumberjacks have started every game in the 2013-14 season and one of those young men is Nikola Gajic, a senior from Bosnia, who played for two years at Jacksonville College prior to transferring to SFA.
Gajic averages just under 10 points and hauls in nearly five rebounds a game. In addition, Gajic's 48 steals ranks as a team high.
“Nikola is a winner,” Jacksonville College head men's basketball coach Jody Bailey said. “From his first practices as a freshman at Jacksonville College all the way through the Southland Conference tournament championship Saturday, Nikola has done whatever it takes to win, period.
“He's a winner on the inside, too...he plays with so much heart and he is really a caring individual.”
Bailey, who had the honor of accompanying Gajic on SFA's Senior Day earlier this month, said basketball players like Gajic certainly don't grow on trees.
“Nikola is special,” Bailey said. “I've seen him at practice at SFA and just as he did at Jacksonville College, he makes the other players around him better. It's almost like having a coach on the floor.”
As for the Lumberjacks' chances against VCU, Bailey said that the selection committee didn't do SFA any favors in pairing them up against the Rams.
“I think it's a dangerous matchup for SFA,” Bailey said. “VCU is like a bigger and longer Northwestern (La.) State. They run the trap well and they like to disrupt the flow.
“But, often in the (NCAA) tournament it comes downs to wills...who wants it more, so this should be a real good game.”