For the second straight year, Francis Marion is getting to experience the Division II version of March Madness.
The Patriots will be in Charlotte Saturday to face 16th-ranked Augusta University in the opening round of the Southeast Regional.
Sumter native Brandon Parker hopes to lead Francis Marion to a deep run in the tournament. The former News19 Player of the Week is the Patriots leading scorer (19.0 ppg) and rebounder (6.7 rpg) and last week he was named the Peach Belt Conference Co-offensive Player of the Year. Parker says his four years in the Pee Dee have allowed him to grow into FMU's leader.
"This four years has been a Cinderella story for me," Parker said.
"I just thank my coaches and teammates for having confidence in me to just have a good game, every game."
Francis Marion head coach Gary Edwards has made more than a few trips to the Midlands to find those under the radar players. He found Detrek Browning at Irmo and he went on to become the Patriots' all-time leading scorer. Another Irmo product, Winston Hill, is putting together an outstanding freshman season for the Patriots. To get Parker, Edwards made a shorter drive to Sumter to get someone who has gone from a reserve to a league player of the year.
"What a wonderful story, Brandon Parker from Sumter has become one of the premier shooters in the country." said Edwards.
"I don't want to say "rags to riches", but he's come a long way since his freshman year, from a freshman, almost walk-on from Sumter to the Player of the Year in the Peach Belt. It's just a tremendous story and a testament to his hard work and the kind of young man (he is). He's been a great leader for us this year. So, we're going to ride his coat tails. We're going to ride his coat tails hopefully all the way to the championship."
Francis Marion (21-8) is the seventh seed, while Augusta (26-5) is the second-seed after winning last week's Peach Belt Conference Tournament title. The Jaguars swept the season series, winning by five points both times, 81-76 in Florence and 75-70 in Augusta.
Tipoff in Charlotte is set for 2:30 p.m.