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!
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.
"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)