BISMARCK, ND — University of Mary’s Devan Douglas is used to having been labeled “the underdog” his entire life, from the time he put down his first dunk on a playground in his hometown of Clinton, IA, as a 5’7” high school kid, to his college career as a 6’3”guard for the sometimes taken-for-granted Marauders basketball team, to now, as the unheard of and perhaps smallest contestant in the 2016 State Farm College Slam Dunk and 3-Point Championships live Thursday, March 31, at 8 p.m. (CT) on ESPN.

“I love it, I love it,” said Douglas in a television interview. “There are a lot of guys that are small and can get up just like me and they aren’t getting acknowledged for it. I want to show and represent Mary when I am doing it. I ‘ve got a big chip on my shoulder so I want to go out there and show them what I can do and what the University of Mary is about.”

University of Mary basketball player prepares for the 2016 State Farm College Slam Dunk and 3-Point Championships live Thursday, March 31, at 8 p.m. (CT) on ESPN.

University of Mary basketball player prepares for the 2016 State Farm College Slam Dunk and 3-Point Championships live Thursday, March 31, at 8 p.m. (CT) on ESPN.

Douglas is on a mission. He might be small, but his heart is big. He’s not in this competition for himself. When fans of all ages see Douglas perform live on ESPN from the Berry Center court in Cypress, TX, they should consider that as his platform — and he is simply the messenger.

“My award is — (I’m) doing it for my people, doing it for my city, doing it for Mary, Bismarck, my teammates, my coaches, my family,” said Douglas. “I just want to put a smile on their face. That’s who I am going out there to do it for.”

And there is one more name to add to his list of gratitude — University of Mary athletic trainer Lance Shuler. If Douglas were to win the contest and a trophy is to be awarded — he will undoubtedly share it with Shuler.

“He’s been helping me out since I got here,” said Douglas. “I have had knee problems since my first year here. He’s been here for me every day. He’s been helping me out big time.”

“I really think that is the coolest part of his season to me,” said first-year University of Mary Head Coach Joe Kittel, whose Marauders, with Douglas as a starter, finished the 2016 season in third place in the NSIC North Division with upsets over Moorhead State and Mankato State, and a berth in the conference semifinals. “He had two years with some catastrophic injuries that could have cost him his career, let alone the chance to be in a dunk contest on national TV. He bounced back. He worked hard with his trainer. He worked hard on his own to get himself back to health, and now for him just to finish his career on a high note with being on the floor is great.”

And it’s Schuler’s vigilant training work that has allowed Douglas to get into the air dunking again and subsequently recognized by the Team Flight Brothers website — home of the world’s best dunkers. Shuler can even be credited for another big assist — volunteering his body as a dunking prop during Douglas’ practices — a daredevil like maneuver that will help him in the upcoming competition.

“He’s going up against some really good guys – sons of NBA players,” added Kittel.

Hearing that he is going up against 8 of the world’s best-of-the-best college dunkers from bigger, more recognized schools, motivates Douglas even more. Despite his stature, he figuratively and literally still looks up to the great NBA stars like Lebron James, Vince Carter and Blake Griffin, to name a few.

But it’s his childhood idol, the diminutive 5’7” former NBA star Spud Webb, who helps provide inspiration. Webb became the shortest person to compete in the NBA Slam Dunk Contest, winning the event in 1986. Douglas watches old Webb videos and current dunk contests to get ideas and create some of his own inventive dunks.

“You walk into the gym every once in a while he is doing something crazy,” added Kittel, who will accompany Douglas to the event in Texas. “You’re like, wow. (He) just makes it look simple.”

With these names being some of the event’s most notable NBA alumni: Gary Payton, Steve Nash, Jason Terry, Kyle Korver, Aaron Brooks, Bobby Hurley, Michael Finley, Damon Stoudamire, Allan Houston, Wes Matthews, Cappie Pondexter, Katie Gearlds, and Kristi Toliver, it’s understandable if Douglas would be nervous about being on the big stage.

“Nah, I’ve been doing this for awhile. No stage is too big for me, not with these calves,” said Douglas, tapping his leg muscles.

So, what’s Douglas’ secret to his high-flying, awe-inspiring, slam-dunks?

“Good soul food, sweet tea and doing box jumps and calf raisers with Lance — my athletic trainer,” said Douglas, who will be the first Marauders basketball player to compete in the competition’s 28-year history. “My plan now is to keep my legs iced and fresh. Keep working on my legs. Keep doing my rehab with Lance.”

And now, Douglas has the entire University of Mary student body, Bismarck community and state of North Dakota cheering him on, and basketball fans across the country will be rooting for him — the underdog once again.

Go to http://www.collegeslam.com for an updated list of all the participants.