When the University of North Carolina at Asheville came close to beating Syracuse University in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, college basketball followers were shocked.
UNC Asheville guard Josh Seligson, a redshirt sophomore from Raleigh, was not surprised.
“We went into that game with no doubts in our minds that we could beat Syracuse,” Seligson said. “We truly believed we could win.”
In the March 15 game in Pittsburgh, the Bulldogs trailed by three points in the final minute, but the Orange managed to pull away in the final seconds to win 72-65.
“I’m proud of how we played, but our goal was to win,” Seligson said. “But we came away from it motivated to improve for next year. We lost on Thursday and were back in the gym and the weight room on Monday.”
Seligson was not on the court during the game that almost made history, but he is not discouraged by that either. He was happy to be there.
After all, he has worked his entire life to be a part of a Division I basketball program. His position on the team was not handed to him on a silver platter. He doesn’t even have an athletic scholarship.
He is a walk-on.
Seligson’s earliest memories involve playing outdoor hoops.
“I remember playing against older guys and getting killed but then playing guys my own age and beating them,” he said.
Playing the part of the underdog while quietly improving his game has been Seligson’s success strategy.
As a kid playing AAU ball for the Garner Road Bulldogs, he scrimmaged with other athletes who have gone on to make names for themselves in college and pro basketball.
When a D1 Sports youth travel team that included Duke’s Ryan Kelly and the Washington Wizards’ John Wall needed opponents to scrimmage against, Seligson put himself on the line.
“It was a great experience; everyone on that team was a stud, and I’d always get killed, of course, but that got me comfortable playing against bigger and faster opponents,” he said.
Seligson learned to set goals for himself early in life.
As an undersized high school junior varsity player who needed to improve his jump shot, he dreamed of playing varsity basketball at St. David’s School in Raleigh.
“We pulled Josh up to varsity during his sophomore year, because he was really doing well,” said Eddie Rogosich, then St. David’s basketball coach and recently named the coach at North Raleigh Christian Academy.
“Going into his junior year, his strength improved. He bulked up. His ball handling and shooting improved, and he became a weapon on both offense and defense,” Rogosich said. “Josh’s work ethic and improvement changed the basketball culture at St. David’s, and everyone else wanted to be a part of it.”
In Seligson’s junior and senior years, St. David’s racked up a 51-15 record, Rogosich said.
Seligson did not want his basketball career to end in high school, and he received offers to play for a variety of Division II colleges.
But he wanted more.
“Josh told me he wanted to play Division I basketball. I helped him all I could, but realized he needed more help with his jump shot,” Rogosich said. “I talked with his dad and explained that Josh needed to spend his summer working on basketball like it was a job, so he spent 40 hours a week lifting weights, playing pick-up basketball and working with a shooting coach.”
Seligson caught the attention of UNC Asheville coach Eddie Biedenbach, a former N.C. State basketball player and assistant coach who asked to see Seligson’s videos and to watch him play.
Rogosich also reached out.
“I told Coach Biedenbach that Josh would bring a great work ethic and enthusiasm to his team and would make his program better,” he said.
Biedenbach did not give Seligson a scholarship, but he did offer him a chance to join the team as a walk-on.
“It was a no-brainer to accept the offer,” he said.
Seligson believes his strenuous high school workouts taught him the discipline he needs to play at the college level.
“You don’t realize how hard you can play until you get to college,” he said.
He was redshirted his freshman year, which gave him a chance to train and practice with the team but not play. Now he travels with the team, the Big South Conference champions this past season, and plays a few minutes in most games. His goal is to earn more playing time during his final two years of eligibility.
He’s doing that the only way he knows how – though hard work and long hours.
Given Seligson’s track record for accomplishing his goals, the odds are good that Bulldog fans will see more of him in coming seasons.
Seligson advises other kids with athletic dreams to work hard, stay in the moment and always be grateful.
“Never give up on your goals and don’t take your blessings for granted,” he said. “If you work hard enough, you can get a shot at anything.”
Even a chance to play in the NCAA Tournament.