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April 1, 2003

Last season Mark Slonaker and Mercer won just six games. This season the Bears won 23 games claimed the first regular conference championship in school history (14-4).

Mercer and Slonaker can also lay claim to the best single-season turnaround in NCAA history, going from 6-23 to 23-6. Mercer also cracked the CollegeInsider.com Mid-Major Top 25 for the first time ever.

One could easily argue that Slonaker has one of the toughest jobs in division I college basketball. In addition to very high academic standards, their home court has a capacity of just five-hundred people.

Despite the disadvantages, in six seasons the Mercer program has shown steady improvement, with Slonaker at the helm, culminating this season with a school-record 23 wins (Mercer won 22 games in 1923-24 and 1984-85).

The Bears semi-finals loss, to Central Florida, snapped a 12-game winning streak, which was fourth best in America.

Mercer has an enrollment of 2,300 and is widely regarded is the Ivy League of the South.

Slonaker is the first recipient of the Jim Phelan National Coach of the Year, which was recently renamed to honor the retired Mount St. Mary's coach. Phelan, who coached for 49 season, is currently third on the all-time win list with 830.

Previous recipients of the CollegeInsider.com National coach of the Year include Rob Barnes (Mississippi), Rob Evans (Mississippi), Bob Huggins (Cincinnati), Greg Kampe (Oakland), Mike Krzyzewski (Duke) and Bo Ryan (Wisconsin).

The four other finalist were Lute Olson (Arizona), Skip Prosser (Wake Forest), Bo Ryan (Wisconsin) and Tubby Smith (Kentucky).


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