PEORIA — As the Bradley men's basketball team broke a huddle early in Missouri Valley Conference play, Armon Brummett spoke up.
The Braves were in the midst of an 0-5 start in league play and losing believers in the program by the day. Brummett, a freshman from MacArthur, dug into his memory bank. He's been a part of teams struggling out of the gate before.
"We all we need," he said aloud. "We all we got."
"What did you just say?" Bradley head coach Brian Wardle replied back. "Amen to that."
Suddenly, the mantra that Brummett had a part in coining during his sophomore and junior football seasons at MacArthur when the Generals had back-to-back 1-8 seasons became the rallying cry of his college basketball team.
“When we started off slow in the season, fans were booing us and stuff," Brummett said from the practice floor at the Renaissance Coliseum in Peoria. "That came in to my mind from the MacArthur thing. I was like, ‘Man, we’re the only ones who believe in ourselves.'"
It was only fitting that when the Braves bounced back in league play and overcame an 18-point deficit in the Missouri Valley Conference championship game in St. Louis last weekend to punch a ticket to the NCAA Tournament that Brummett got his chance to share the message with the public.
Waiting for the Braves in Peoria was a slew of fans — a welcoming party to celebrate the conference championship and the NCAA Tournament berth. After the Braves lined through the sea of red, Wardle took the microphone and quickly turned it back over to Brummett.
Typically quiet, Brummet channeled lessons learned in his speech class and spoke into the microphone and started the saying — the crowd finished it.
“That chant hit home with us at a certain point in time," Wardle said. "Everyone doubted us. Everyone didn’t think we were good enough and we needed this or we needed that."
MacArthur football coach Derek Spates remembers the chant from what was a dark time for the Generals three seasons ago. He knew that his young team was going to grow into a powerful force in the Central State 8, and he was right. The Brummetts, Armon and Amir, were instrumental in getting MacArthur back to the playoffs.
But there's something special about Brummett taking a chant from MacArthur all the way to the NCAA Tournament.
“I think that’s something that when you look at the type of things you try to instill in young men and student athletes, you’ve got to be able to overcome adversity and you’ve got to be able to fight through adverse situations," Spates said. "It’s going to take you and your teammates and coaches to do it. I’m pretty excited that he would remember something like that from back when he was a sophomore and junior."
Behind the chant, Bradley is rolling all the way to Selection Sunday, where it will learn of its tournament destination. Brummett is a bench player. He's played in 23 games this season and hasn't started. He averaged 0.6 points in 6.0 minutes for the Braves. But that doesn't mean he was going to stand by quietly and not make an impact.
He's praised by his coaches and teammates for his energy and engagement on the bench, which was picked up by CBS in the Missouri Valley Conference championship game last weekend.
“He can play, he can guard and he’s really athletic," teammate Elijah Childs said. "I’m not surprised at what he can do. It’s really about his rhythm and his flow within the offense."
Wardle continuously tells his freshmen that each path is different. Brummett's may not include playing time right now, but he's still making an impact. When he walked into an all-but-empty practice gym on Friday, he laughed and joked around with teammates before heading over to an empty hoop that sat just below a string of banners celebrating Bradley's past success.
In other words, he stayed the course, and that led him to the same NCAA Tournament he's been watching since he was a kid. Of course, he heard from Amir, who was instrumental in the development of the chant when they were burgeoning stars at MacArthur.
“It was basically just like telling him it’s the big time," Amir said. "All the challenges we faced when we were younger, growing up, it’s all paying off for him to finally get to that moment. Even if he doesn’t play, just being the best teammate he can be then next year getting there again and he can make an impact on the game hopefully."
For now, Brummett will convene with his team on Sunday to see exactly where the Braves are headed in the tournament. It's the first tournament appearance for Bradley since 2006, when the Braves had a Cinderella run to the Sweet 16.
“As a kid, you watch those games on TV," Armon said. "I grew up seeing like (Kentucky’s) John Wall and (UConn’s) Kemba Walker and you always dream of hitting those types of shots in those types of games. When you realize you get that opportunity, you’re like, ‘Man, as a kid I dreamed of this. If this dream comes true, what other childhood dreams of mine can come true?’”