I’m crazy about College Basketball. Always have been.
Like, seriously crazy.
I mean, I’m not getting any younger, and these days I can scarcely remember what I was doing five minutes ago (what the hell was I doing?). That said, I can still recite every NCAA Champion since 1981 (Indiana), who they beat (North Carolina), and in most cases I can tell you who the 10 starters were. Every once in awhile I can actually name all the guys played significant minutes, and even EVERY GUY who played in the Championship game.
Would you believe I sometimes do this when I’m having trouble falling asleep?
Seriously, I remember the 1999 final between Duke and UConn more vivdly than any sane dude ought to . It was the year that everyone had dubbed the tournament the “Duke Invitational”(they had FIVE eventual first round NBA Draft picks), let still lost to a UConn team that featured:
*Khalid El-Amin (fearless, pudgy)
* Rip hamilton (elite scorer)
* Ricky Moore (defensive stopper, unselfish),
*Kevin Freeman (6’6, gritty-as-fuck midget power forward)
*Jake Voskuhl (set picks, hit short jumpers, had rad hair)
And a deep bench consisting of:
*Albert Mouring (long range bomber)
*Edmund Saunders (highly touted recruit who never quite panned out)
*Antric Klaiber (um, he was big),
* Souleymane Wane (um, he was really big)
*Rashamel Jones (talented wing who was a victim of being on a deep squad)
Told you I could do that.
I also have a obscenely thorough recollection of the 1997 Arizona championship team, featuring four guards who went on to play in the NBA in Miles Simon, Jason Terry, Mike Bibby and Michael Dickerson and another four scrappy front court guys who did enough of the dirty work to put them over the top (Eugene Edgerson, AJ Bramlett, Bennett Davidson and Donnell Harris).
As a mild digression, my favorite memory from that game was Bramlett angrily chastising one of the ‘Zona benchwarmers for hogging the camera during the post-game celebration. I mean, he literally pushed the guy aside and yelled at him before returning to his previously joyous state.
Best part is, that benchwarmer turned out to be Josh Pastner, the current head coach of Memphis University. Bramlett was last seen playing Pro Ball in Latvia.
I’m not making that up, I swear.
Anyway, the point I’m making here is that there are certain teams and performances over the year that have stolen my basketball loving heart, and it had nothing to do with whether I lived in the region or went to school there. It was strictly born out of a fondness for that particular team.
Kind of how I feel about Virginia Commonwealth this year, and I can only hope they’ll have the same endgame.
I want to be able to remember this team as the ultimate underdog (yes, more than Butler was last year), the scrappy bunch of unheralded kids who ran powerhouses like Georgetown and Purdue out of the gym and brushed off the mighty Kansas Jayhawks like they were some last place team from the Colonial Conference. These kids have played the whole damn tournament with absolutely zero fear, from 5 foot 9 inch point guard Joey Rodriguez to leading scorer Jamie Skeen (who it should be noted is a dead ringer for Cutty from ‘The Wire”) all the way to the end of the 11 man rotation (Troy Daniels, in case you were wondering) , this team has made me more of a cheerleader than I can remember being since, well, ever.
Nevermind that Jay Bilas and Dick Vitale did everything but picket their games as a result of their unhappiness with VCU’s inclusion in the tournament, this story has been nothing but fun from day one, with coach Shaka Smart becoming the hottest young coach in the country and the players becoming momentary celebrities in a way I’m sure they never even dreamed to imagine. Best part is, those guys look like they’re having the time of their fucking lives, and in alot of ways they are.
Yeah, they’ll probably fall short against UConn or Kentucky, since both teams are capable of matching their speed and athleticism in a way that none of their five tournament victims could, but given what’s happened so far it hardly seems impossible that they could pull off that one last miracle.
Honestly, I hope they do. It really has been a helluva ride, and I’m pretty sure I’ll remember this team for a long time, win or lose.