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What are your favorite NCAA tournament memories?

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

The WTLC writing crew is a diverse group of guys and gals who have a multitude of favorite NCAA tournament experiences. In honor of the greatest college basketball weekend you could ever dream of, we recount some of our favorite personal moments. Check them out, and when you're finished add in your own in the comments below!


Chris Hanneke

I’ve never been much of a fan of NCAA basketball. The games are slow, the shot clock is too long, contrary to myth they actually aren’t that great at defense, and they allow a single-elimination tournament to decide the national champion – rendering the regular season the most useless in sports.

The one thing I could never refute in terms of college basketball’s popularity is the passion of its fans, which stems largely from the fact that people feel a deep connection with their alma mater. That’s likely another reason why I never got into it all that much, because I went to a school that has a laughably irrelevant team in the West Coast Conference.

In 2008, though, they actually were relevant. After upsetting Gonzaga in the WCC tournament, University of San Diego got a first-round date with the Hasheem Thabeet-led UConn Huskies.

I was a senior in high school and had already committed to attend USD in the fall, so I was pretty excited to see what was going to be my school on a national stage. Sure, they were a 13-seed facing off against a collegiate powerhouse – and Hasheem Thabeet! – so I didn’t exactly have high hopes, but there was that built-in passion for it that only college sports can give you.

I was on spring break, at a gym, watching from the treadmill when all of a sudden the clock was getting closer to zero and the 13 seed was hanging around. I got off the treadmill, mostly because running is awful and I get motion sickness from staring at a screen, but also because I wanted to really let the whole thing sink in.

Overtime rolled around and, again, USD wasn’t going away. Problem was, their two best players had fouled out in the overtime period, and at a small school you aren’t exactly stocked with dudes that can just handle big moments like this without shrinking. De’Jon Jackson somehow had the courage and skill to do it though, and he took the inbounds pass, drove right and pulled up for a Dion Waiters-approved step-back and buried it.

That was it. I jumped up and down like I was playing the game myself, and I’ll never forget that feeling. Sure, I often get close to that excitement watching Russell Westbrook these days, but even that is different. This was my school, a school not many people knew about, making a name for all of us – legitimizing the school and everyone there, essentially.

They lost the next round, and they never got back to that point while I was there or since. For whatever reason, the players got too big for their own good, the coach couldn’t control them, and they never lived up to their potential. Oh, and then they ended up getting slammed with a point-shaving scandal. The era came to an end just last week when they fired the coach that won them that game against UConn – the only tournament win in school history.

That's still one of my favorite sports memories, though: jumping up and down in the gym, not caring what anyone else around me thought. That’s the irreplaceable power of school spirit, I guess.


Bill Champion

"The Tyus Edney Game"

1995 Missouri vs. UCLA (TV)

-I’m almost certain that I was in Mr. McConnell’s Drawing 2 class while this game was being played. All of the classrooms at Bishop McGuinnes, or at least most of them, had a TV mounted on the top corner of the room. It was for "Channel One News" starring Anderson Cooper. There were two, maybe three teachers that would turn the TV on to CBS for the opening rounds of the NCAA Tournament. One was Mr. Young, I had him for Algebra 2 in the afternoon, and the other was Mr. McConnell. Since I’m trying to keep with the spirit of this post and base things more off of memory than research, I’m pretty sure the Mizzou team still had coach Norm Stewart and Jason Sutherland. I hated them so, so much. I hated their student section, "The Antlers". The only thing I despised more than Missouri was the University of Texas football team, the St. Louis Cardinals, and mayonnaise. Jason Sutherland was Patrick Beverly before there was a Patrick Beverly. Norm Stewart was a jerk and my grandmother swore that he yelled racial slurs at Wayman Tisdale in the early to mid 1980’s. "The Antlers" were "The Antlers". That same day, an OU team lead by a very good Ryan Minor would or already had lost to the Manhattan Jaspers. Oklahoma State would go on to play UCLA and lose in the Final Four in Seattle. I remember it being Seattle, but it could have been San Antonio or St. Louis.  I also vividly remember thinking, "Where in the hell is Boise, Idaho? Why would you play a basketball game there? Do they have running water? Where are the potatoes?". Most Oklahomans are aware of Boise now. There was impossibly little time left on the clock when Tyus Edney took off and I thought he looked like Barry Sanders playing basketball shortly before the ball went in. I don’t believe in karma and I think schadenfreude is a particularly disgusting emotion, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have a smirk on my face when I watched the yellow jerseys fall to the floor in disbelief.

"The Babysitter Cried"

1988 OU vs Kansas (TV)

I was eight years old. My parents had gone to the Rodgers, Kansas alumni, for a watch party. I remember the babysitter being very proud of her Air Jordans, and to her credit they were very cool. White with red accents, or they may have been blue, the "jump man", and what I thought was black and grey leopard print. Being eight years old, I was just starting to like basketball and baseball but I really didn’t care too much about the OU vs. KU game. Neither did my dad and I had the feeling my mom cared but it wasn’t life or death. They both went to TCU and prior to LaDainian Tomlinson the most notable thing about their athletic program was that their mascot was a frog that spit blood out of its eyes and my dad’s stories of how all the football players drove new Cadillacs. OU had played Kansas a handful of times prior to the title meeting with "Danny and the Miracles" and had won them all, but came up short against KU. The team was loaded with NBA talent. Harvey Grant, brother of Horace Grant. Stacey King, who would go on to play with Horace and Michael Jordan. More than any other player, and it should be noted that I was just beginning to even understand that basketball was a thing, I liked Mookie Blaylock. So much so that my dog in high school, a black lab and dachshund mix, was named Mookie Blaylock. I liked Blaylock for some of the same reasons Pearl Jam did. It mostly because of the name, but partially because my grandmother (OU superfan) told me to, and it also had to do with him being very, very good. While I had marginal interest in the game and my parents, at an undoubtably jubilant Doug and Jane Rodgers party, had tepid interest at best, the babysitter cared. It wasn’t a full heaving cry, not gentle weeping, but more of the variety that can be masked with, "oh, it’s just allergies". Had I been a year or two older I can only assume I would have been doing the same.

"The God Shammgod Game"

1997 Providence vs. Duke (TV)

-This one is a brief but pleasant memory. I was a high school junior in 1997 and was visiting colleges over spring break. Among them were Denison, Wofford, Villanova, and Providence College. Providence was and is a small school. When I visited it was shortly before St. Patrick's day and there were bedsheets hanging from the window with "Oh My God Shammgod" or similar things written on them. The campus seemed tiny, surrounded by an army of Dunkin Donut franchises, but nice. Duke is, was, and has seemingly always been a two-ton monster. I can’t remember their exact roster from 1997, but I recall names like "The Alaskan Assassin", Elton Brand, and Wojo (I’m not going to begin to try spelling his full name). I had disliked Duke since Bobby Hurley. My Mom liked Duke because Coach K went to West Point and my Uncle went to West Point, but I still hated them. God Shammgod, known more now as the name of a crossover dribble move than for the actual person, was the breakout player in the 1997 tournament. Every year seems to have a player attached to it. In 1988 it was Danny Manning, in 1995 it was Ed O’Bannon, and while his team didn’t win the title, I’d argue that 1997 was God Shammgod’s tournament. I didn’t get to see the full game as I was on the road visiting colleges, but I did get to see portions of it. More than anything, I remember the newspaper headline the next day. "God Beats the Devils on a Sunday".

"The Bryce Drew Shot"

1998 Valparaiso vs. Ole Miss (The Myriad/Cox Convention Center)

-I was a high school senior and at the time I had made up my mind that I was going to TCU. It was between TCU and Denison and the purple and white frog sticker was already on the back of my car window. Two weeks later I would let TCU know that I was going to Denison, but when TCU was getting set to play Florida State in the opening round of the tournament I was all for the Horned Frogs. The game was the opening game of the day at the Myriad, now Cox Convention Center, and I ended up going with my dad. He’s never been a big sports fan, though he’s come to enjoy Thunder games and the occasional OU football game, but in 1998 I would guess this was something of a chore for him despite having gone to TCU. I can’t remember if TCU won, but I don't think they did. I know they had Billy Tubbs at the time and a reasonably good team, maybe a 4 or 5 seed, but they put up a lukewarm effort against Florida State. Following the TCU game was Ole Miss, a 4 seed, and Valparaiso, a 13 seed. The arena wasn’t very full for the TCU game and even less so for the Ole Miss vs. Valpo matchup. There was a smattering of Ole Miss fans sitting ten to fifteen rows in front of me. Packs of well behaved people, though they had bursts of obnoxiousness as all fans are wont to do. Nothing over the top and they seemed like good, decent people as far as fans go, but Ole Miss has an obvious and unfortunate relationship with the confederate flag. That bothered me at the time and it still does, though I try not to hold it against them. In any event, it made pulling for Valpo that much easier. I don’t remember seeing too many Valpo fans aside from those behind the team’s bench, but sometime around the middle of the second half the crowd started to get behind them while the group of roughly two hundred people in blue continued to support their Rebels. For such a signature moment in tournament history, it’s weird to remember how few people were actually there. By the final minutes my dad, someone who cared more about model cars than sports, was a rabid Valpo fan. Everyone that wasn’t in blue was. When Bryce Drew came pulled up for the shot, I had the same kind of feeling I do when a Thunder fan is pulled from the crowd to hit a half court shot and a chance to win twenty-thousand dollars. The feeling of, "I know you won’t hit it because these kinds of things never happen, but I’m pulling for you and it would be ridiculous in a great way.". Then the ball went through the net and the roughly two thousand people not decked out in blue shot their arms up in unison as if it was a mass electric shock. It may have been a larger crowd, but their were so many empty seats. I don’t remember much of the game itself outside of the shot and the sheer size of the Ole Miss players (they were comically large), but I’ll always remember that shot and the slow burn of fans rallying behind Valpo in the second half.

My first truly positive memory of the NCAA tournament was borne out of the heartbreaking yet redeeming story of the team from Loyola Marymount in 1990. The team was truly innovative at the time, with, get this, a crazy offensive scheme that was built on pace and space and little else. Head coach Paul Westhead was truly ahead of his time, and watching this team put up a dizzying amount of 3-point shots and routinely crack 100 points per game made the experience unlike anything else.

Sadly, their mission to the tournament was seemingly halted by the on-court death of their starting center, Hank Gathers. He, along with his All-American teammate Bo Kimble, fueled the offensive frenzy, and Gathers' death was shocking. Amazingly, the team did not give up on their underdog season, and as an 11th seed, stormed their way to the 'Elite Eight' before falling to the eventual champion team from UNLV.

The memory is so strong because of the way the team rallied around each other during their run, always memorializing their fallen friend, with Kimble most notably shooting his free throws left handed in honor of Gathers.

My second personal memory actually stretches across 3 decades. I grew up near Syracuse, NY and bore witness to some of the great college legends of all time, including Pearl Washington, Sherman Douglas, Derrick Coleman, Rony Seikaly, and Billy Owens. My very first foray into the NCAA tournament, however, came during the spring of 1987 when the Orangemen made a run to the national championship game and faced coaching legend Bobby Knight's Indiana Hoosiers.

The 'Cuse had the championship all but locked up until their one Achilles Heel - free throw shooting, put them at risk. And then one of the tournament's most iconic moments happened to SU:
As a young boy, I was as shell-shocked as those Orangemen players were, but even today it is difficult to believe how the team allowed 3 full seconds to run off the clock, seconds that could have changed...

Ok, let's move on.

Nearly a decade later, I was a college student in Virginia yet the Orangemen were still the guys I pulled for the most. In 1996, SU was not expected to do much of anything. They came into the tournament a 4th seed and weren't really known as a great team in any sense of the word. However, as the tournament went on, a few breaks went their way. #1 seeded Purdue got knocked out by 8th seed Georgia. SU survived a nail-biter in overcoming the Bulldogs, and then faced #2 seeded Kansas in the Final Four. Kansas ended up playing a horrible game, shooting only 34% from the floor. Syracuse didn't play much better, but it was enough to earn them a trip to their second championship game, where they faced Rick Pitino's #1 seeded Kentucky squad.

Even going into the game, my best friend and I knew...we knew...that SU didn't have much of a chance. Of course when SU started to make a game of it, we allowed ourselves some emotional investment, and it seemed as if they were on the verge of an upset. However, that KY team was loaded with future NBA players, including Antoine Walker, Ray Mercer, Tony Delk, Walter McCarty, and Derek Anderson, and in the end the talent was too great to overcome. My friend and I were both sad AND bitter because we knew we shouldn't have let ourselves get into the moment, and when we inevitably did, frustration was the outcome.

That frustration lingered and might have killed my SU fandom for good, until an 18 year old freshman named Carmelo Anthony joined a bunch of 1st and 2nd year players including Gerry McNamara, Hakim Warrick, Josh Pace, Billy Edelin, Matt Gorman, and Craig Forth. Anthony's NCAA tournament that year is where his legend was created, as the smiling, cornrowed freshman made mince meat out of everyone along the way, culminating in a 33 point domination over #1 seeded Texas in the Final Four.

In the championship game, SU faced a team in Kansas that featured a spry and talented senior power forward named Nick Collison. The story of the game was supposed to be how the veteran Jayhawk squad would eventually overwhelm the youngsters, but a hot start by Anthony and McNamara gave the Orangemen a double-digit lead at the half. However, since nothing worth doing is ever easy, KU chipped away at the lead SU's age-old nemesis, FT shooting, reared its ugly head again. Warrick missed 2 FT's, giving Kansas the ball with a chance to tie the game. They were in great position to do it, as they found Michael Lee in the corner for a 3-pointer for a wide open look. But then, KU destiny got sidelined by a human helicopter:

A failed desperation three by Kirk Hinrich gave the Orangemen their first and only NCAA championship.

My college hoops journey had been redeemed. And that is the last time I ever truly cared about college basketball.

Tell us your memories in the comments below!