(Mike Gross/ Talladega) It’s been a long road but the student athletes of the Men’s Basketball Team at Talladega College now understand hard work and perseverance pays off.  They were named the Nations No. 1 basketball team on today by the NAIA Division I Men’s Basketball Rankings for the very first time in the school’s storied history.

For the first time in school history, Talladega (Ala.) earns the No. 1 position in the eighth edition of the 2014 – 15 NAIA Division I Men’s Basketball Coaches’ Top 25 Poll, the national office announced Tuesday. With a 23-3 overall record (at time of rankings period), the Tornadoes posted seven first-place votes and 248 total points. With the NAIA’s longest active winning streak at 18-straight (Monday’s win not included), Talladega moved up from No. 2 after former top-ranked team Cal State San Marcos dropped an 86-67 decision over the weekend.

Talladega has been on the winning side ever since a 12-point victory over Cincinnati Christian (Ohio) on Nov. 22, 2014. Along the way, the Tornadoes have jumped to first place (11-0) in the Gulf Coast Athletic Conference (GCAC) with three regular-season games remaining. Brandon Peters has been the individual star with 19.6 points per game (No. 17 in NAIA) and 2.2 steals (No. 13 in NAIA). On Feb. 23, Talladega is scheduled to face Philander Smith (Ark.).

Talladega has been steadily rising up the ranks this year by going on a 15 game win streak to get positioned in the top 3. After a loss by California State University San Marcos  and a win by Talladega, the Tornadoes moved into the number 2 spot.  Many of the students on the team are seniors / 4th year players and are elated that they have the opportunity to experience being the No. 1 college basketball team in the Nation.

Last year’s team won the Gulf Coast Athletic Conference Regular Season Crown and The GCAC Tournament Championship. They finished the regular season ranked 6th in the nation while reaching the “Sweet 16” of The NAIA National Tournament in Kansas City.  Coach Cross, who has been the teams’ coach for the last three years, states “I could not be more excited for these young men who all decided to come be a part of something real special here at Talladega College.  These guys have totally bought into the vision I laid out before them during the recruiting process and we are all fired up that we have conquered one of our biggest goals in becoming #1 in the country.”

To maintain the ranking he says that he will continue to focus on developing the teams intensity, mental toughness and intelligence playing and make sure every player understands the challenge ahead of them to stay on top.

Talladega has three regular season games remaining.  Next up for the Tornadoes will be its last home game of the season with a match up vs Philander Smith College on Senior Night, February 23rd.  With a win over the Panthers the Tornadoes can clinch the GCAC Regular Season Conference Championship. Talladega College currently is 10-0 in the GCAC standings a full three games ahead of second place.

The Tornadoes will travel to New Orleans on March 6-8 in defense of their conference tournament title from a year ago. Xavier University of Louisiana will once again host the Gulf Coast Conference Tournament.

Talladega College will be making its second consecutive trip to the 2015 Buffalo Funds NAIA National Tournament in Kansas City, MO, March 19-25.  Tickets for this event are now on sale by visiting Ticket Master or going directly to the NAIA website at www.naia.org.  This will mark only the college’s third appearance at the NAIA National Tournament, the first came in 1996. Last year, Talladega College won its first ever NAIA National Tournament game.  The last HBCU to win the NAIA National Championship was Texas Southern in 1978.  Talladega College’s Men’s Basketball Team repeated as National Champions of the United States College Athletics Association in 2009 and 2010.

The oldest private Historically Black College in Alabama, Talladega College was founded in 1867 by two former slaves, William Savory and Thomas Tarrant.  The College has an aggressive tradition of bringing the world to Talladega.  Home of the Hale Woodruff Amistad Murals, the murals are on a nationwide tour where it is estimated to be seen by over a half million people and has received rave reviews from the New York Times.  For more information, visit www.talladega.edu.