A UPS worker from Winterville, FL named Cameron Grice has one million reasons to tell you that three is indeed a magic number. Or, however many reasons are left after taxes, as he won $1 million dollars in the Florida state lottery on just his third time buying a ticket.
He’s just one of the "third time is the charm" examples littered throughout history. Among other failed pursuits, Abe Lincoln twice lost bids for the U.S. Senate before being elected President. In the basketball world, it took LeBron James three cracks at the NBA title before ensuring he wouldn’t be remembered as one of the greatest to never win it at all.
Then there’s the Hampton Pirates, who hope the 2016-17 season brings their third straight trip to the NCAA tournament. Will they carve out their own spot in the "third time" cliche lexicon, perhaps with a Norfolk State-style massive upset? It may depend in large part on a player that is on his third school, hoping for his own "third time" redemption story.
Coach Edward Joyner signed Old Dominion transfer Austin Colbert in May, but his eligibility is not cut-and-dry. The class of 2013 Rivals and 247Sports top-100 recruit spent his first two seasons riding the bench at Illinois before sitting out last year at Old Dominion. He never suited up for the Monarchs and is hoping to get a waiver to play immediately, with two years of eligibility, at Hampton. Colbert’s story is also not without tragedy, as his older brother passed away in January.
"I went to a point where I felt like I didn’t even want to play basketball anymore," he told the Virginian-Pilot in May. "With everything that’s been happening, I think that’s not in my best interests. I think that’s it time to push through any failures and go harder than ever for my brother."
Pegging your hopes on a guy who has never averaged more than 7.5 minutes per game may sound foolish. But Colbert flashed big potential in his final season at Illinois, with a defensive rebounding rate of 20 percent and offensive rebounding rate 14.5 percent. His 7-foot wingspan and athleticism should stand out in the MEAC and give him a chance to translate that small sample size across an entire season. Joyner also isn’t a stranger to succeeding with transfers, as both Quiton Chievous (Tennessee) and Reginald Johnson, Jr. (Miami Ohio) came to Hampton after starting elsewhere.
Whether Colbert can play this season remains to be seen, but in any case, Hampton is his third and likely final chance to make a mark at the NCAA level. If he can play, the Pirates will be closer to making a third straight trip to the NCAA tournament and, just maybe, making it the charm.
Last year, the Pirates reached the NCAA tournament in consecutive seasons for the first time in program history on the backs of seniors Chievous (17.0 PPG, 10.7 RPG) and Johnson, Jr. (18.1 PPG, 4.0 APG), both of whom landed on the All-MEAC first team. Now they're gone, and Joyner also loses three other seniors who averaged at least 19 minutes per game in Brian Darden, Jervon Pressley and Dionte Adams. That’s the bulk of the rotation that led Hampton to 21 overall wins, a 13-3 MEAC record and the Pirates’ first regular season title since 2002.
The KenPom metrics say that last year’s team (No. 229) wasn’t that much better than the 2014-15, sub-.500 Hampton squad (No. 239) that got hot in the MEAC tournament, grabbed an NCAA bid and beat Manhattan in the First Four. But if Hampton is going to make it three straight trips to the Big Dance, the safe money is on it coming on the heels of another surprise MEAC tournament run because of the Pirates’ inexperience. Some help from a former star recruit could make their ceiling higher and their potential greater.