Raiders seek second chance at championship and scholarship

NICEVILLE, Fla. (WJHG/WECP) - Northwest Florida shoots, Northwest Florida scores.

The crowd cheers, the band plays...they win, and they do it all over again.

27 of the Raiders 29 games have gone in the books the same way.

"You're always hoping it comes out this way," head coach Steve DeMeo said. "We knew we had some talent. I knew if we gelled, we'd be a special team. You just never really know until you take the court.”

Well, now we know. They've been ranked number one for most of the year. They're Panhandle Conference champs again, although that's not good enough for some.

"To me, it doesn't really mean anything," said sophomore Derek Funderburk. "I know to a few of my teammates, it doesn't really mean anything. Conference, okay, it goes up there on the banner, but you can see how many conference championships they've got."

There's 12 up there now.

“That's not bragging, we want the national championships. There's only two of those.”

What else this team wants is another chance.

Funderburk started his college career at Ohio State. The relationship didn't work out—for Derek and his teammates, this season is a last chance chase to catch a D1 scholarship.

“You need to be able to sacrifice," DeMeo said. "Because each one of these guys has a lot of talent, and when you come to a place like Northwest Florida you have to take maybe a step or two back from what you're used to.”

Funderburk is committed to play NCAA hoops at NC State, proof that what happens Niceville can open or close doors elsewhere.

“Winning helps these guys get opportunities to go to other schools," DeMeo added. "If you lose, people don't want to recruit your players."

"I don't try to make it seem about me, but every program I've been in, I try to put something in that history," Funderburk continued. "Everything I try to do, I put my all in and make a stamp wherever I'm wanted."

So The Raiders' 13th conference title this season might not mean anything to the players, but what happens at the state and national tournaments does...long after they leave, and the banners are raised because of them, but without them.