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Ex-Alabama, NBA player Leon Douglas leads Tuskegee on surprising run in Division II tournament

Leon Douglas is once again coming up big in the NCAA tournament, just on a smaller stage and wearing a suit instead of a jersey and shorts.

Nearly four decades after posting two of the University of Alabama's best postseason performances, Douglas the coach has guided eighth-seeded Tuskegee into the Division II quarterfinals Wednesday against Metro State in Evansville, Ind.

The Tigers (21-11) pulled off three straight upsets to win the South Region while the other seven No. 8 seeds fell in the first round. Like at Alabama, Douglas is doing it at a school better known for football.

He even drew a chuckle at his job interview from a skeptical administrator when he listed competing for an NCAA title as one of his goals eight years ago.

"Really, this has been a football school," Douglas, 59, said recently. "Basically, everything is centered around football. When I went to Alabama, Alabama was all football. For the four years I was there, we were able to transform it into not only just football but make it football and basketball.

"I'm trying to do the same thing here at Tuskegee."

The 6-foot-10 Douglas has done it in Division I, too. He had 35 points and 17 rebounds in an opening-round win over North Carolina in the 1976 NCAA tournament before losing to unbeaten and eventual national champion Indiana 74-69.

The year before, he racked up 29 points, 21 rebounds and seven blocked shots in a 97-94 opening-round loss to Arizona State.

Douglas still holds Alabama's single-game NCAA tournament records for rebounds and blocked shots in a game and is second in points scored.

As Tide teammate Wendell Hudson pointed out to Douglas recently: "Now you've got another chance on that stage."

"It's a miracle, it's a blessing," Douglas said. "It's a combination of things, but for us to be at this particular point is incredible."

The Tigers routed third-seeded Delta State 80-59 to reach this point.

No historically black college team has won a Division II title since Virginia Union in 2005.

"A lot of people are like, 'Who are these guys from Tuskegee coming here from the HBCU conference that they're in?'" Tuskegee forward Richard Dixon said. "I know we're shocking a lot of people right now. They're trying to figure out who these guys are on this team."

The Tigers had different leading scorers in all three regional games.

Dixon, who's leading the team in scoring at 17.3 points per game despite starting only one game, scored 22 against North Alabama in the second round.

Kevin May had 24 points — 17 more than his season average — against Delta State, while Elliot Dean scored 31 against Florida Southern.

Douglas has led Tuskegee to four regular-season Southern Intercollegiate titles and two SIAC tournament championships over the past eight seasons, breaking droughts of several decades in both regards. They'd never finished better than third in a regional.

He was the first Alabama player picked in the opening round of the NBA draft in 1976, when the Detroit Pistons picked him fourth. Douglas spent eight seasons in the NBA.

Taller than any of his current players, Douglas now has Tuskegee three wins away from a title after the surprising run.

His pre-game message appropriately was about faith before the Delta State game. He put four Bible verses and nothing basketball-related on the board in the locker room: Philippians 4:13, Romans 8:28, Isaiah 54:18 and Matthew 17:20.

Douglas sums up the final verse: "If you believe, you can move mountains."

"There was only a handful of people who believed we could get this far and we turned everybody else out," guard Camden Foster said. "We just kept the 15 in the locker room on the team. We bonded at the right time of the season and we got the job done.

"Here we are making history, and we hope to win it all."

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