RTC asked its legion of correspondents, charlatans, sycophants, toadies and other hangers-on to send us their very favorite March Madness memory, something that had a visceral effect on who they are as a person and college basketball fan today. Not surprisingly, many of the submissions were excellent and if you’re not fired up reading them, then you need to head back over to PerezHilton for the rest of this month. We’ve chosen the sixteen best, and we’ll be counting them down over the next two weeks as we approach the 2009 NCAA Tournament.
Who knew that the 1996 UMass team would have such an effect on our correspondents? We got two unique submissions relating to Coach Calipari’s plucky national semifinalist.
Refuse to Lose (submitted by Obsessed with Sports)
A year after being knocked out of the Sweet 16 by “Big Country” Bryant Reeves and Oklahoma State, the Minutemen were back deep in the dance. I was only 11 years old but I had been a die hard Minuteman fan for all of a year at this point. If someone had asked me who my favorite athletes were, Marcus Camby would have been #2 right after Ken Griffey, Jr.
I thought it was so simple to make noise come March. To me it seemed that UMass was there every year. How wrong I was. Back then I didn’t know about how Marcus Camby got to Amherst, why he chose UMass or how much money he allegedly took fro magents while there. I didn’t understand the recruiting genius that was coach John Calipari. Regardless, right years later when I was accepted to the University of Massachusetts as an undergraduate, it was those great basketball memories that had stayed in my mind all these years. Coack Cal was long gone, that Final Four banner engulfed in controversy, but the memories remained.
March is about loyalty. Staying true to the team(s) that you represent for whatever reason. There are always new sweetheart teams that you fall for but it comes down to those perenial favorites that you live and die with.
Last year UMass was in the hunt. Although they did not make the tournament (after another A-10 tourney blow-up) they did make it to the finals of the NIT. The university had the most embarrassing shirts made: NIT Finalist… but still Massachusetts was again on the national stage.
Remember, come March; stay loyal and Refuse To Lose.
Solace in Geographic Solidarity (submitted by Allen R of Houston Basketball Junkies)
My earliest distinct memory of watching college basketball and really getting into it is of John Calipari and his University of Massachusetts Minutemen went to the Final Four in 1996.
Yes, this was only 13 years ago and I’m still fairly young when it comes to being a college basketball historian.
But I can remember like it was yesterday being a wide-eyed 7 year old watching Marcus Camby reject shots by the minute and John Calipari strut the sidelines as the Minutemen’s young, up and coming coach. I admit, I thought that Calipari with his suits and slicked back hair was one of the coolest guys out there. Let me remind you, I was still 7 at this time.
They were also a team from the northern part of the country and at that age I still felt like an outsider, having just recently moved to Texas from the Northeast. That Minuteman team was somewhat of a surprise, although Camby won a slew of national awards that year, including the Naismith Trophy if I remember correctly.
But I didn’t just enjoy the Minutemen that spring of ’96, I fell in love with college basketball and March Madness. I discovered the joy of preparing a bracket and getting off of school early to watch the early tournament action. To this day, the 7 year old boy in me still longs to watch that #16 seed knock off the #1 in that most unlikely of upsets.
Things have come full circle for me, as I write about college basketball and John Calipari now coaches at the University of Memphis, which is the biggest obstacle to the tournament dreams of my college: the University of Houston.
It’s funny how life works out some times.