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Tiny Bible school is fast becoming Washington Generals

ATLANTA — Carver College has become college basketball’s equivalent of the Washington Generals, barnstorming from city to city, playing games almost every night, enduring one enormous beating after another.

Appalachian State 105, Carver 23.

Wofford 111, Carver 37.

Georgia Southern 92, Carver 27.

Yet there’s one big difference between the Cougars and that hapless foil of the Harlem Globetrotters.

Carver always takes the court expecting to win, even though there’s virtually no chance of that happening unless the other team fails to show up.

“I don’t have that mindset,” says the team’s eternally optimistic coach, Bryan Spencer. “This is competitive sports, man. It’s about winning. It’s about competing. I never go into a contest expecting to lose.”

But Spencer is also a realist.

He’s coaching at a miniscule, historically Black Bible college — enrollment: roughly 60 students — located in a former Seventh-day Adventist grade school on Atlanta’s west side.

Most Atlantans have never heard of Carver, myself included — and I’ve lived here most of my life.

With NCAA Division I teams facing cancellations on an almost daily basis because of COVID-19 and desperate to schedule as many games as possible, often with little notice, Carver has stepped into the void as a willing patsy.

They collect a check and gain what Spencer believes will be much-needed exposure, valuable experience and a lifetime of memories.

Never mind that the Cougars are members of not the NCAA but the NCCAA — National Christian College Athletic Association — a collection of tiny schools that don’t have anywhere close to the resources needed to compete against mid-majors like Georgia State, Florida International and Liberty.

Spencer recognizes the unique position his school is in, one that may never come around again. Even with the virus raging — and, yes, it’s stricken some of his players — he believes it’s worth the risk.

He’ll pick up the phone for pretty much any team that calls, willingly sending his team into games that are roughly akin to the Christians vs the Lions in ancient Rome.

The Cougars have already played 15 times, all of them on the road, losing every one by an average of nearly 59 points.

The players sure seem to be enjoying the ride. Granted, it’s no fun getting pulverized night after night, but most of the games are being carried on ESPN’s streaming service, so friends and family are getting to see them play.

Carver was founded in 1943, but the basketball program has only been around for about two decades.

It was the brainchild of the late school president Robert Crummie, who wanted to use the team as a religious outreach for young Black men.

Now that the word is out, Spencer is getting several calls a day from schools that are eager to beef up their depleted schedules with last-minute games.

Every one that Carver plays bolsters its bottom line, if not its record.

The program is entirely self-supporting, with no money coming out of the university’s extremely tight budget. Spencer is the only paid coach, though he does have two volunteer assistants. The team’s facilities are decrepit: a puny gym with a parquet floor that desperately needs replacing, though that hasn’t been much of an issue in a season where the Cougars have yet to play a home game and there’s hardly any time for practicing.

Spencer is not as concerned about the virus, saying his team has to get tested at least three times a week to ensure opponents that it’s not spreading COVID-19 around the country.

“The reason our guys play so hard on the court is nobody else would give them a chance,” Spencer said. “Once they get here, it’s family. It’s love. It’s not just an experience, it’s true love. That’s what they get at Carver College.’

Then he adds the most important message of all.

“It’s not the end of the world when we lose.”

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