Sprink aims to lead Navy to next level: NCAA tourney

The Baltimore Sun

From any perspective, Greg Sprink's senior season has been a satisfying experience.

This week, he became the first Navy player ever chosen as the Patriot League's Player of the Year. He led the conference in scoring with an average of 21.2 points, shot 87 percent from the free-throw line and rose to No. 1 all-time among three-point shooters at the academy. Just as importantly, he matured into the type of leader who fortified his team even when his shots weren't falling.

Moreover, with Sprink at the helm, the Midshipmen developed into a legitimate contender in the league, with only a 73-62 loss in the final game at Colgate preventing them from taking the regular-season championship.

But the season won't be fulfilling to him unless the team can capture the Patriot League tournament title for the first time in a decade and gain an automatic NCAA tournament berth.

"Exactly," said Sprink, a native of Cardiff by the Sea, Calif. "There's no doubt one of my goals, even before being recruited, was that we were going to make the NCAAs while I was here. It's been a long rebuilding process; it took awhile to get all the pieces together."

The opportunity starts tonight for second-seeded Navy (16-13, 9-5) at Alumni Hall when seventh-seeded Bucknell (11-18, 6-8) visits for a quarterfinal game. They split during the regular season, with each winning at home.

Sprink was not recruited by current coach Billy Lange's staff and was at the Naval Academy Prep School when Lange, the Patriot League Coach of the Year, succeeded Don DeVoe. But Sprink, who also averages 6.2 rebounds and 2.8 assists, has been a mainstay of Lange's growing process almost from his arrival in Annapolis.

The 6-foot-5 Sprink ideally fit the Lange system -- a big guard who could shoot from long range, drive and kick it out and move the ball quickly. There were frustrating moments for both along the way as Navy struggled to reach .500 and grow into the Patriot League force it once was. But Sprink persevered through hard work and this season has been an all-around positive influence on a team with only one other senior.

"The area where I've matured a lot as a person and player is if I'm not scoring points, I can do a lot of other things to help the team," he said.

Despite all the defensive attention, Sprink scored 616 points during the regular season, fifth highest in school history.

Sprink will leave the academy this spring and go to familiar territory. His assignment will be on a frigate in San Diego, just 30 minutes south of his home. For now, though, the goal is the NCAAs.

We're pretty pumped up about the tournament," he said, "because we think we have a pretty good chance to win it."

Tournament openers

State Division I men

(Seeds in parentheses)

Patriot League

Tonight: (7) Bucknell at (2) Navy, 7 p.m.

Northeast Conference

Tomorrow: (5) Quinnipiac at (4) Mount St. Mary's, 7 p.m.

Colonial Athletic Association

At Richmond, Va. Friday: (8) Hofstra vs. (9) Towson, noon

America East Conference

At Vestal, N.Y. Saturday: (1) UMBC vs. (8) Stony Brook or (9) Maine, noon

Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference

At Albany, N.Y. Saturday: (4) Loyola vs. (5) Fairfield, 2:15 p.m.

Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference

At Raleigh, N.C. March 11 or 12: Coppin State, Morgan State and UMES, TBA

Atlantic Coast Conference

At Charlotte, N.C.: March 13 or 14: Maryland, TBA

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