For the past few years, A.J. Wynder was bothered by one question.
"You get there time and time again, but don't win, so you start wondering, 'Can you win the big one?' " the Nassau Community College men's basketball coach has asked himself.
"In 17 years of coaching this team, I never experienced a losing season, but after a while, I was feeling like the former Bills quarterback, Jim Kelly."
On Sunday, NCC won its first Division III Region title under Wynder. The coach said it was the team's first since 1989, when it defeated Sullivan Community College, 65-60.
Now the Lions (27-5) will be vying for something bigger. NCC will play Rock Valley College at 7 p.m. March 13, in the NJCAA D-III National Tournament at SUNY Sullivan. The program, Wynder said, has never won a national title.
Wynder, who was named Region XV Coach of the Year, believed his team was destined for a historic season on March 1, when a twist of fate helped the top-seeded Lions defeat fourth-seeded Suffolk CC in a Region XV semifinal.
"It came down to the last shot and Suffolk had possession with 6.3 seconds left," Wynder said. "They took a shot and the ball hit the rim, bounced straight up and went through the hoop. For a minute, our hopes were dashed."
However, the referees ruled the ball had hit the wire on top of backboard and called off the basket, giving NCC the win.
However, the Lions' season hasn't been a fluke. NCC has a deep roster of talent, dominated on both ends, averaging 81 points and 45 rebounds.
The team is led by 6-3 sophomore Jamail Stanley, who was selected as first team All-Region XV and was named tournament MVP. The guard/forward averaged 18.8 points and 9.5 rebounds.
"We call him the mailman because he does deliver," Wynder said. "He gets the most out of his ability and he's the best offensive rebounder I've ever had."
Freshman center Jaleel Charles has contributed 11.9 points and nine rebounds.
Because the team has strong inside play and steady guards, Wynder believes winning the tournament is possible.
"I took a ride up last year, and I never watch the tournament, and I just watched the first day to see the level of talent across the country," Wynder said. "And I know teams have changed from last year, but I told my team we have enough."
SCC women lose title game
It was another solid season for Kevin Foley and his Suffolk Community College women's basketball team.
However, the season ended on Saturday with a loss against Rockland Community College in the Region XV championship game. The team was led this year by freshman center Larissa Ellermann, who averaged 13 points and 13.6 rebounds.
One of the highlights of the year was Foley, who previously had coached both the girls and boys basketball teams at Bayport-Blue Point High School, surpassing 400 wins in his career (combining high school and college).
Foley, 67, has a career record of 394-122 at SCC. His teams won more than 20 games in eight different seasons and he has never had a losing season.