March Moment: Lest We Forget, Sometimes It’s Good Just To Be InvitedPosted by jstevrtc on March 31st, 2010
Few college basketball fans are born with their love for the game. For most aficionados, at some point on the way from infancy to college hoops fan, there is a moment. A single play, shot, player, game, or event at which point they say to themselves, “I will always have this in my life.” Because it is the time of the season that carries the most gravitas, these things often happen in March. We asked some of our friends and correspondents: what was the thing that turned you into a lifelong college basketball fan? What was your…March Moment?
Our final installment for this year has a pair of remembrances that remind us how just being part of the magic of the NCAA Tournament is something for which to be thankful. RTC correspondents Kraig Williams and Russell Burnett recount being in the crowd (and eventually on the floor) to see their teams earn automatic invites to the NCAA Tournament. Butler may be a 5-seed but they’re still a so-called “mid-major,” and this is obviously the biggest storyline of this year’s Final Four. These stories from Messrs. Williams and Burnett amplify how great Butler’s achievement is, and goes to show that if you think every single mid-major program in the nation doesn’t take pride in and hope from the Bulldogs’ presence in Indy this weekend, you’d better think again:
KW: I’ve always been a big college basketball fan, and fondly remember the days of filling out a bracket before I even knew how to pronounce some of the schools’ names. Growing up in Utah, I remember watching Keith Van Horn carry Utah to a championship game; I jumped on the band wagons of Duke in ’01 and Syracuse in ’03 to win bracket pools among my friends and slowly college basketball seeped into my blood. It wasn’t until last season that I had my ultimate March Moment.
As a student at Utah State University, we survived the adjustment from the Big West to the WAC only to surfer heartbreaks in the conference tournament year after year. Last season though, things were different. It was clear the Aggies were head-and-shoulders above the rest of the conference. Utah State steamrolled through Fresno State, somehow survived New Mexico State in the semi finals, and then came the dream matchup with Nevada on their home floor. Sitting outside the arena a couple hours before they would even let us in, it became apparent that this would be our night. Utah State students had the Nevada crowd nearly outnumbered, and when we got into the stadium it became clear that we would have the better team. Utah State jumped out to a 21-4 lead and the party began in the student section. After years of following the Aggies, and watching them come oh-so-close so many times, we were finally going to have a conference tournament banner to hang in The Spectrum. The clock ticked down, we shouted the “winning team, losing team” chant, and then we rushed the court in Reno like our lives depended on it. We spent the next hour or so just standing on the court, talking to the players, taking photos with the trophy, and watching our guys cut down the nets. That’s a feeling I’ll never forget, knowing that we weren’t going to be sweating bullets at home waiting to see if the selection committee would be nice enough to send us to the dance.
The story didn’t end with some Cinderella Final Four or Sweet 16 run. Marquette proved to be too much in the first round of the NCAA tournament and we were sent packing, just another one of the 32 teams that didn’t make it past the first round of play, but it didn’t matter. Just making it there had been an accomplishment that I would never trade for anything. So I urge any student reading this that may be on the fence about making the road trip to your conference tournament to just do it. You’ll never have a better time than singing Queen’s “We Are the Champions” on the court with all your friends, while watching your team cut down the nets.
RB: A little more than 25 years ago Akeem Olajuwon was blocking everything the opponent threw up toward the basket and dunking anytime he was within 10 feet of it. Olajuwon, Clyde Drexler, Alvin Franklin, Michael Young and Benny Anders played for the Houston Cougars and put on a show the media dubbed Phi Slamma Jamma.
We all know what happened when UH faced Jim Valvano’s North Carolina State Wolfpack in the championship game that year — Derek Whittenburg’s errant shot was corraled by Lorenzo Charles who jammed it home as Olajuwon watched in disbelief. What many people don’t know about that game is that when Charles dunked the ball, a 13-year-old boy in Lake Jackson, Texas jumped to his feet and knocked off two blades from the ceiling fan in the living room — much to the chagrin of his parents.
20 years later, my parents came to understand my basketball addiction a little better. We sat in the stands in Huntsville, Texas and watched my alma mater, Sam Houston State University, hit a game-winning three-pointer against Stephen F. Austin to earn a berth in the field of 64 for the first time in school history.
I can only say that what happened next might have been an out-of-body experience, but after I blacked out I looked around and realized that I was in the middle of the Johnson Coliseum court jumping up and down with the student body after rushing the court. I was 33 years old hoisting players on my shoulders and slapping high-fives with 18-year-old students.