I have to be honest: I don’t watch much television, but I was basically glued to the couch for the first four days of March Madness.
What makes this event just about the best thing ever? Why was it the only event all year that was allowed to play on the television in the lobby of my high school during the school day? After all these years, I think I’ve figured it out: Even the seemingly negative aspects of the tournament have endearing qualities about them.
For example, take the Florida Gulf Coast University storyline. For those who don’t know, FGCU is a state university in Florida that began hosting classes in 1997 and entered competitive Division I athletics just two years ago. In the first round this year, the No. 15-seeded Eagles upset the No. 2-seeded Georgetown Hoyas. The Eagles went on to win their next game against San Diego State to reach the Sweet 16.
Usually, I root for the no-name underdog, just like everyone else. But as FGCU was about to defeat the Hoyas, I felt upset. I knew nothing about FGCU, and what the announcers said about it was enraging. They explained that FGCU had been founded with the initial purpose of supporting a basketball team, and that the basketball arena had been the first building constructed on campus. In fact, Reggie Miller said something along the lines of, “And who said you can’t build a university around a basketball team?” This pushed my buttons.
And so I was rooting for Georgetown, a terrific university with a basketball team that generally does things right. Its coach is the son of a former Hoyas coach, its best player is an unassuming, future NBA lottery pick who dominates games without your even noticing that he’s on the court, and its style of basketball is unflashy and traditional.
But now I’m not so sure I’m upset that FGCU pulled off the upset. I don’t purport to know much about FGCU even now, but from a very cursory examination, there are a bunch of things to like about it.
Did you know that FGCU’s coach, Andy Enfield, is married to a supermodel and was an early employee of and investor in a software startup that was valued at around $100 million before he opted out in 2006. By any measure, those are two pretty cool and impressive achievements for a young college basketball coach (especially the first). And there was also the distinctly endearing scene of the team’s best player, Sherwood Brown, with a smile plastered across his face, reaching across the scorer’s table and shaking the hands of announcers Len Elmore and Reggie Miller as the upset was in the bag. It was as if he were introducing himself to them as the happiest college kid in the world.
And there have already been so many other charming moments like that one which made us remember that this is a distinctly collegiate tournament, with 64 quite unique teams in it. If you kept watching after No. 9-seeded Wichita State upset No.1-seeded Gonzaga, you saw several of them. Wichita State head coach Gregg Marshall gave perhaps the most genuine and heartwarming postgame interview I’ve seen. After praising the selflessness and team spirit of his players (and entirely deflecting credit away from himself), he said how excited he and his team were to go to Los Angeles for the Sweet 16. And then, two unexpected visitors joined him on the court: his teenaged son and daughter. He introduced them to the camera, kissed them and went to go join the dance circle his players had begun on the court. In the nearly empty EnergySolutions Arena in Salt Lake City, the entire Wichita State Shockers team was breaking it down. Loudly.
I have even done a semi-U-turn on a player I thought was my least favorite in the tournament, Mississippi’s Marshall Henderson. Henderson comports himself on the court roughly, as would a 10-year-old boy, including excessively demonstrative air punching, chest-slapping, wide-eyed glaring and shooting every time he touches the ball. I generally despise players like that, preferring the silent assassins, so to speak, such as Roger Federer and Mariano Rivera. Henderson has also already been to three different universities and one junior college, searching for a place to ply his trade. He’s also been in trouble with drugs in the past, having served 25 days in jail earlier in 2012 after violating his probation by testing positive for cocaine.
But then I looked Henderson up on YouTube to see if he was as insane as he seemed. And he really isn’t. He views his own antagonism in a delightful manner, laughing it off and acknowledging that it is a manifestation of his passion. He takes it in with a laugh, in the spirit of sport. And even if I don’t love watching him jack up 11 3-pointers a game and then celebrate like he won the NBA finals when one of them goes in, at least I know that the NBA scouts don’t either.
He’s going crazy and doing all that he can because he wants to win, and after all, it is only a game.