That’s the motto of the Dallas Baptist athletics department, and it justly fits the Patriots basketball team, which happens to be off to its best start through 20 games in program history.
“I think there’s a bigger family atmosphere at DBU,” senior guard Joey Miller said. “You just go around campus, people know you, they care about you. We have a lot of one-on-one time with our coaches and they help us. Their biggest thing is wanting us to grow as a person and as a player.”
The Patriots have grown significantly as a team, winning more conference games this season than they did all of last year. Picked to finish near the bottom of the league in the preseason coaches’ poll, DBU has fought its way to the top of the conference standings with eight games remaining in the regular season.
In the midst of his 10th season as the Patriots coach, Blake Flickner said he has seen major progression in the players’ defensive intensity.
“This year’s team is special because of the way they support each other, the unselfishness with the way that they play,” he said. “The thing that really separates this team is the defensive side of the ball. We’ve really defended well and taken a lot of pride in our defense. It’s a very difficult league and our guys have really stepped up to the challenge and shown some good toughness.”
The Patriots have not rested on offense, either. DBU leads the Heartland Conference in scoring with a lethal 87.9 points per game average, with much of that damage coming from behind the arc.
While team talent and statistics have this group trending toward conference championship contention, there is more to the makeup of the program than wins and losses.
Flickner said his team would be happy to take home a title, but a greater purpose remains at the front of their priorities.
“That’s something that we care about, and that’s something we work really hard about, but it’s not the only thing in our lives,” he said. “Having a relationship with Christ is above and beyond that.”
DBU is a proud Christian university, and Flickner is keen on maintaining the importance of faith in his program.
“I view my job as a coach as being – first, before anything else – a missionary,” he said. “I just think that’s the job of a follower of Jesus, is that we’re to make disciples no matter what we do. My job happens to be coaching basketball, but no matter where I’m at doing that, I want to help guys grow spiritually.”
Flickner implements Christian values into the regular routine by spending one-on-one time with his players, taking them to lunch, and holding weekly discipleship meetings.
Junior forward Myles Johnson, the team’s second-leading scorer, said the team gatherings play a big part in developing chemistry off the court.
“We’ll go through a certain book of the Bible together or do a certain video series,” he said. “Usually we’ll go through scripture, go through the video and then we’ll talk about it, just talk about the general application it has for our lives. You build team chemistry off the court doing stuff like that. It’s a powerful thing to pray with a teammate.”
Flickner has an expression he commonly uses around his players as a reminder for everyone about who they are playing for.
“We talk about ‘playing for an audience of One,’” he said. “We’re playing with God as our audience. That’s something we’ve got to remind ourselves of constantly, ‘cause it doesn’t come naturally. We’ll talk about it, and how as young men and college students and athletes we can live and play and work in a way that glorifies God.”
Having Flickner as the coach and spiritual leader of the team has been a blessing, Miller said.
“He’s the godliest man I know,” Miller said. “He’s a great guy. He always made me feel welcome, from as soon as I stepped on campus. He leads by example. He wouldn’t ask anything of us that he wouldn’t do himself. He’s the moral compass, the leader of our team, undoubtedly. He’s a great role model for anyone he comes into contact with.”
Even with a top-class coach like Flickner, the Patriots have run into some difficulty on the recruiting trail thanks to one major hinderance – being a Division II program. A big part of any DII program’s success is acquiring recruits on that thin line of being a DI prospect, and convincing them that playing at the DII level is not bad at all.
“That’s always a challenge,” Flickner said. “That DI label is important to a lot of kids. I think the big selling point is the level of competition is still extremely high. Every year there’s Division II teams that beat mid-level Division I teams. Not even just the bottom. I tell people all the time that there’s 300 Division I schools, and the top Division II are beating 200 of those if you play a seven-game series. It’s going to be pretty competitive.”
The parity at the Division II level also gives more teams a better chance to contend for a national title, Flickner said, while only 20-30 Division I programs have a chance at cutting down the nets in any given season.
Johnson was one of the kids who could have played for a low major Division I school or a good Division II school, and he said he does not regret his decision to choose the latter.
“I’m extremely blessed to have ended up in the situation that I did,” he said. “I think DII gets a lesser rep just because people don’t understand or know about it. Division II basketball is really about life balance. It allows you to do some things that you necessarily wouldn’t be able to do at the DI level. But that doesn’t mean that it’s any less competitive. We play a really high level of basketball. I know a lot of people who have played Division II basketball and pursued careers overseas and still developed into incredible players.”
Now working on his MBA in corporate financing, Johnson said he also hopes to play overseas. If it does not pan out, he said, at least he will have his master’s degree to fall back on.
The Patriots are off to a historic start this season, and there is no denying who they will give the credit to for it. This team, athletic department and university are a family united in spirit and intent on one purpose – glorifying their audience of One.
Zach DiSchiano is the publisher and editor of Texas Top 100. Follow him on Twitter at @zachdischiano and Texas Top 100 at @TexasTop100.