Brian Lester realized that the ’09 Oilers men’s basketball team could be something special about halfway through his season of covering them as a sportswriter for The Courier, Findlay’s hometown newspaper. The Oilers had just beaten Ferris State convincingly and entered the locker room in a jovial mood.
“The players were smiling and having fun,” Lester said. “You could see that they embraced being the number one team in the nation, and that’s a rarity, because a lot of teams fold with that type of target on their back.”
At the time, the Oilers were 11-0 and less than halfway through the season, but through those games, Lester felt more and more like this was an exceptional team capable of making the run to the national championship. “Since I knew how special the team had the potential to be, I had the idea of writing a book even going into the season,” he said. “But it was such a crazy season and you get caught up in the moments.”
Crazy season, indeed.
From what he calls “the biggest game I’ve ever witnessed [in Croy Gymnasium],” an instant classic Sweet 16 game where the two teams took many turns with the lead, to a memory from after the championship win of walking out of the MassMutual Center with senior forward Morgan Lewis and reflecting on all the hard work the team had put in that year, Lester was an eyewitness to many of the moments that made that season a memorable one. The Oilers never lost a game during the ’09 season and went on to win the NCAA Division II National Championship in thrilling and memorable fashion when then senior guard Tyler Evans drained a three-pointer at the buzzer in overtime. The championship win etched the Oilers into the history books, marking the first time an NCAA Division II national champion had won 36 games and lost zero.
Lester recently published the book about the momentous championship season titled Perfect Run as No. 1, but, similar to the Oilers season he was writing about, not without some challenges along the way. He started to jot down thoughts after the season was over in an effort to build a foundation to really start working on the book, but, as with most people’s lives, obstacles got in the way of his goal. He moved to Navarre, Florida and started working for the local newspaper there, and, after some time, eventually made the commitment to “plug away at the book for a couple of years, going through rejections and rewrites.” He finally found a buyer nearly two years ago, but it took more than a year after that for the publisher to read through the entire manuscript, suggest corrections and settle on a publication date. “It was definitely a longer process than I expected it to be,” he said, “but not once did I feel like giving up. Being around UF and covering the school for close to 14 years was something special, and I didn’t want to look back and regret that I never wrote the book on the greatest season I’ve ever witnessed in my career.”
Lester took with him a lot of notable moments that occurred along the way to the national championship, but says that the most special thing was simply the fact that the team found a way to win every game. “They [went undefeated] as the number one team in the country. I’m not sure how many teams could pull that off and still win the championship,” he said. “I was confident that they could win the title. I just didn’t think they could do it while going undefeated. It was something special and I’ll never forget it.”