We all miss basketball.
The sound of the ball as it goes through the hoop. The squeak of the sneakers on the hardwood. The roar of the crowd. Mike Breen’s “Bang!” or Boom Gonzales’ “Gets it to go!”
What’s the best way to cope when you miss something you can’t have at the moment? You write it a love letter.
Dear NCAA March Madness,
Just like in the past few years, I was looking forward to your edition this year. Those three tournament weeks encompasses the best of what college basketball the US has to offer- – a basketball manifestation of the proverbial “thrill of victory and agony of defeat.”
I was looking forward to what this year’s field of 68 teams had to bring. I’ve already been getting ready for March Madness after watching a handful of games early in the year, including a classic showdown between the UNC Tar Heels and Duke Blue Devils. That game had Duke nailing two buzzer beaters, one to force OT and the other to seal victory in the extra period. That was just another paragraph in their storied rivalry, one can only imagine what the atmosphere will be should they meet in the Final Four, or even for the NCAA Championship?
With this year’s cancellation, there’s so many possibilities that went out the window. Who will be this year’s Cinderella? Who are prospects and dark horses that will making their mark on pro scouts during the tourney? Which squads will stand out with their customized sneakers or trendy uniform designs? All that will have to remain questions for now, thanks to the current pandemic.
Disappointing as it may be, I have no recourse but to just recall the good memories of how the tournament has influenced me as a fan of the game.
I still remember my first encounter, the time when you entered into my life. It was March 1996. The school year has just ended and I was looking for any basketball game I could get on TV. I needed to get my hoop fix. I happened to flip by a local channel which was showing that year’s NCAA tournament.
Although on delayed telecast, the game shown, I recall, was between the UMass Minutemen and the Georgetown Hoyas. The Minutemen won the game to advance to the Final Four, but one player from the Hoyas caught my eye, thanks to his impeccable skills.
Jersey No. 3 was doing his thing on the hardwood, flashing an array of moves that froze opposing defenses including flushing one down against UMass’ star big man, leaving fans in awe . His team lost, but his performance would prove to be a sign of things to come.
Fast forward several months later, that same player would become the top pick of the 1996 NBA Draft, arguably the most talented rookie class of all time. The March Madness was the beginning of Allen Iverson’s awesome career.
As a side note, his opponent in that matchup, Marcus Camby, was also selected in the same draft. That run also proved to be the ticket for Camby’s coach, John Calipari, to move up to the big stage, as he was signed by the New Jersey Nets to be the head coach that year as well.
For me, that was the start of the countless memories that I’ll always associate whenever the month of March rolls by. There was the upset win by Jim Calhoun’s UConn Huskies over the favored Duke squad in 1999. I also remember the back-to-back title runs by the Florida Gators in 2006 and 2007. Of course, one that was close to home was the Cinderella run by George Mason, slaying powerhouses Michigan State, North Carolina and UConn en route to the 2006 Final Four. That streak also brought attention to that team’s Fil-American guard Gabe Norwood. A more recent memory is the buzzer-beating trifecta of Villanova’s Kris Jenkins to pull the rug from the Tar Heels four years ago.
My memorale moments also included heartbreaks that I’ve witnessed as well. The Butler University Bulldogs did made the Finals for two successive seasons in 2010 and 2011, but weren’t able to translate these into championships. Perhaps the most painful of the two is the 2010 season, where Gordon Hayward’s near Hail Mary from halfcourt that would’ve knocked out Duke.
There are still a ton of stories I can recall from all my years watching the March Madness. All thrilling, exciting and full of drama That’s why being informed that this year’s edition has been shelved due to the pandemic has left a gaping hole in this long-running hoops tradition of mine.
I won’t be able to see what team will have a Fairy Tale ending, or whether the supposed top picks in the NBA Draft later this year will indeed live up to their billing. Will Anthony Edwards tow Georgia to greatness en route to becoming the No.1 prospect in the draft? Is it time for Mark Few, one of the college basketball’s best tacticians, to finally nab that elusive championship? How about Fil-Am guard Remy Martin, will he be able to showcase his skills further? Will fellow Fil-Am guard Kihei Clark defend their crown? Some of these will remain unanswered for now.
This lull may only be temporary, but until a cure has been discovered to address this pandemic then there is still a cloud of uncertainty as to when March Madness, and the rest of the world, obviously, can reboot back to normal.
Until then, I will only have these great memories of the past seasons to appreciate. While these may not be enough to satisfy the hunger of missing out on all of this year’s tournament might have brought, it does bring a ton of nostalgia in recalling what was it like back then.
Looking forward to watching you showcase the best of college basketball, March Madness.