BY SHANNON BOY
The term “March Madness” has for many years been the name of one of America’s most beloved times of the year in sports. It is the nickname given to the much hyped and always look forward to time of the NCAA Basketball Tournament.
The term “March Madness” has also taken on a different type of nickname for many of the high profile, elite teams of today’s NCAA men’s basketball world.
In the past few months we have heard a great deal about agents talking to the “high profile” and “elite” players of today’s basketball world. A sort of madness where people hear of players being given money but unsure if it was given to them before or after they attended the school they were at to play ball and represent their university proudly. There is so much made today of the world of the AAU circuit. Players going to tryout for “elite AAU teams” that go to cities all over the country to play other “loaded” teams to see who is the best. Even with the travel that these teams put forth a lot of money is spent… not just in traveling to these cities to play but just to get the players to their practice with the team. There are a few players on teams that travel 6 hours just to get to a practice with their team and that is if they make the team.
Not many student-athletes are lucky enough to have these luxuries. The ones who have been touched by the finger of God and have their God-given talents noticed are given all the opportunities in the world. There are many others who work their whole lives just for a shot to be one of these players but it never pans out.
This is why in this day and age of “Big Moneyball Basketball” as I like to call it, it is so refreshing to turn on the television and see a team like University of Maryland – Baltimore County (a 16 seed) taking on the ultimate giant of college basketball in 2018 (The University of Virginia / 1 seed) and taking them down to defeat. When I mean defeat I do not mean by a one point margin or something less than five points…. I mean putting a beatdown on a team that won the ACC Regular Season and Tournament Championship over blue bloods Duke, UNC, NC State, etc.
The Retrievers. Retriever Fever! UNLEASH THE CHAOS (on their shooting shirts)! Really? Is that not exciting!? One of the last great upsets I ever remember watching in the tourney was when the Richmond Spiders upset Bobby Knight and the Indiana Hoosiers. There is just something special about watching a group of people work together who nobody knows…. come together and absolutely do magical things.
This year’s NCAA Tournament has been full of madness to say the least. You have to admit though…. deep in your heart…if you truly love this tournament….you love seeing these little David teams dethrone the Goliaths of the NCAA basketball world. I will be the first to admit it…. my bracket looks like someone stabbed it 300 times and it bled to death. I will also admit that I have loved every single second of it.
Teams like UM-BC, Nevada, Loyola-Chicago, etc. People look at them and think….how? Why does this happen? As a basketball coach myself on the high school level, one of the most important things I look for is chemistry on my team. People who will go out on the floor and believe and trust in each other to have each other’s back no matter how adverse the situations may get. When you have that type of comraderie among players and not to mention a little experience of playing together for a few years under your belt….impossible is never a word that you use.
You ask teams after the game like UM-BC, Loyola-Chicago, Texas A&M as well as other teams that you would not pick to go to the Sweet Sixteen how did this happen? I promise you that you will hear words like: believe, love, special. Teams that people look over not because they aren’t good….its because they aren’t name brand. Seriously….picking UMBC over Virginia in this year’s tourney is like someone going to the grocery store and picking the store brand cola over Coca Cola for a major reception. Then again….sometimes its that store brand that gives you that original taste…..the one you find yourself wanting more of for some unknown reason. This is why watching the major underdogs of this tourney become the real winners is pretty genuinely special.
It is not that the players on the blue bloods do not have heart. If they didn’t have heart, they wouldn’t be playing basketball on that level in the first place. It is just that there is something special about seeing the ones who may have been looked over or that people thought “just don’t have it”…..really were the ones who did. When you have coaches like Coach Odum at UMBC who takes the job at a school like UMBC and lets them know that they belong just like the big dogs do…. that my friend is special.
Let’s not overlook one other factor of March….the ladies. Let’s admit…the women’s game isn’t as watched as heavily as the men’s game…not attended as much as the men’s game and not as strong in America as the men’s game. There aren’t as many dunks, there isn’t as much flash and hype….but here is the point. They play the game in the most fundamental way possible. The emotion is still there, the drive is still there, the heart is for sure there. As a basketball coach I love watching the men’s tournament….but I also love watching the women’s tournament. I absolutely love watching teams and their coaches like Geno Auriemma at Connecticut and Jeff Walz at Louisville. I attended U of L’s women’s practice a few years ago when I took over a girls basketball coaching position at my alma mater because I wanted to see what this great program did with their ladies. That was nearly 10 years ago….and now I coach on the boy’s side of the basketball program at my alma mater and you know what? I still use some of the practice techniques and drills that I saw at Louisville at a women’s practice with the guys that I coach now. Why? Its not about gender….its about basketball! Winning basketball! Fundamental I love this game basketball!
That is why in writing this article…… there will be more talks of money and FBI probes and all that kind of stuff probably in the major programs and the elites. So for the rest of this tournament… I would ask that you do one thing. Breathe. Sit back and relax and truly take in what has taken place in this years tournament. Look at these players on these lower seeded teams who are taking the tournament by storm right now. You will NOT see many of them in the NBA. These guys, and gals, will be taking on regular hard working American jobs with regular salaries just like you and me. They weren’t the highly recruited, elite athletes that traveled city to city. They were average people who loved a sport so much that they dedicated as much time as they could to it and went from ordinary to extraordinary. They then went to a school and became something special with others who had the same goal.
This is what the NCAA Tournament should mean to all of us. It is that special moment….that One Shining Moment that doesn’t glorify a national champion….but glorifies the people who go to college and pays the tuition and goes out into the workforce and yet….gets to tell their grandkids while watching the television one night during the NBA on ESPN…. “Your granddad….he took that dude to school one night. Me and my buddies at UMBC…. we shocked the world! Come up here on my lap and let me tell you about it!” And from there…. true basketball dreams are dreamed once more.