Morehead State coach Preston Spradlin seeks to put 'my faith on display' in NCAA Tourney

There’s a reason they call it March Madness. In seemingly every NCAA Tournament, some unexpected underdog pulls off an upset or two and captures the hearts of fans across America.

As his No. 14-seeded Morehead State Eagles prepare to take on No. 3 seed Illinois (Thursday at 3:10 p.m. ET in Omaha, Nebraska), head coach Preston Spradlin believes his team can be this season’s Cinderella.

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“We have an unbelievable group of guys,” Spradlin said in his opening statement during Wednesday’s press conference. “… They’re a faithful bunch. Their chemistry is very real. Their connection is very strong, and that’s evident when we play.”

Morehead State set a school record with 26 wins in 2023-24, Spradlin’s eighth season leading the program, going 14-4 in Ohio Valley Conference play and earning the conference’s automatic NCAA Tournament bid with a 69-55 victory against Little Rock in the championship game. It’ll be the Eagles’ ninth NCAA Tournament appearance and second in the last four years.

Their path to get there, however, wasn’t easy; they lost OVC Preseason Player of the Year Mark Freeman to a wrist injury before the season began and subsequently lost three of their first five games.

Yet under Spradlin’s leadership, the Eagles righted the ship by winning 11 of their next 12 and now find themselves in the Big Dance riding a six-game winning streak.

In advance of the first round, CBS Sports journalist Matt Norlander asked all 68 head coaches in the NCAA Tournament about their favorite band or artist, and then posted the results on X. Spradlin, in a nod to his faith in Christ, chose Christian music artist Jeremy Camp.

But Spradlin’s answer to the fun pre-tournament question was hardly the first time he’s been public about his faith. He calls himself a Christian in his X bio, and he also appeared as a guest on the Sports Spectrum Podcast in September 2021. The appearance came after his first trip to the NCAA Tournament, and he talked about basketball success as well as his growth in faith, especially during his season as interim head coach at Morehead State (2016-17).

“I grew up in church, grew up in and out like most people,” Spradlin said. “I had different times in my life where I was certainly more faithful than others, more reliant on my relationship and communication with God than other times. And I think when I got into my interim season, four games into the year the head coach resigns and I take over, and I just really dove into my faith at that time.

“… The way I got through that was really growing in my faith.”

He continued later, “That’s what got me through that really tough year. It was being able to focus on my faith, making it about the players, not thinking about myself.”

Responding to a question on the podcast about what God was teaching him at the time, Spradlin shared a story about a one-word challenge he and his team did in the new year. The idea was to make one word the guiding principle for the year.

Spradlin’s word? Faith.

“I wanted to do a better job of putting my faith on display through my coaching,” Spradlin said, “so that when someone comes into practice or they see us at a game or they see me anywhere because I’m always the coach, they walk away and they say, ‘That guy is different. He’s faith-driven. He’s a believer.’ I didn’t always feel like I’d done a great job with that, and I wanted to be more intentional.”

Spradlin has an incredible opportunity to do just that direct the focus to Christ on Thursday and throughout Morehead State’s NCAA Tournament experience.

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