With the men’s basketball team still in the hunt for the Ivy League’s automatic bid to the NCAA tournament and a mere five games remaining in the season, it seems an appropriate time to dream up a possible scenario.
The date: March 15. The place: Greensboro Coliseum in Greensboro, N.C., 614 miles south of New Haven. The Bulldogs, the No. 16 seed in the Southeast region, are readying to face top seed North Carolina. The Tar Heels, winners of three national championships and participants in 15 Final Fours, seem amused their opponent has not played in the Big Dance since 1962.
When asked how many Yale players he thinks will attempt to guard him, UNC’s National Player of the Year candidate Joe Forte tries to contain his smile. “Oh, it will be interesting,” he manages to blurt out before bursting into laughter.
Meanwhile, James Jones is doing his best Gene Hackman imitation. The second-year Eli head coach is demonstrating to his players that, despite the national television audience, the 20,000 fans in attendance and the presence of Jim Nantz and Billy Packer, the free throw lines are still 15 feet from the basket. Yale has played at Ohio State and California this season, but, as the national media has been pointing out all week, this is Carolina. It’s the school where Michael Jordan and Vince Carter played. It’s the NCAA tournament. The Big Dance. Every college basketball’s player’s dream.
And every college hoops fan’s dream. Hundreds of Yale students have withstood the 10-hour bus ride to Greensboro, and many more piled into cars for the trip down to Tobacco Country. Yalies across the country interrupted their spring breaks for this once-in-a-lifetime occurrence. Alumni around the world are tuned in to see something they always thought was impossible. Even President George W. Bush ’68 announces that, although he was only mildly aware that a basketball team existed when he was a student at Yale, he will be watching the game from the White House.
The press has embraced the story with reckless abandon, dredging up alumni from all walks of life to get their opinions on the basketball program’s newfound success. Famous graduates such as Garry Trudeau ’70, Meryl Streep DRA ’75, Chris Dudley ’87 and the Clintons weigh in with their support. CBS has decided to follow the team around all week, just to see if the stories about players studying on road trips are true. Word has it NBC Sports president Dick Ebersol ’69 called up Jordan — not only to beg him to play again, but to place a friendly wager on today’s game.
“We’re accustomed to seeing Princeton or Penn represent the Ivy League, but this year is a different story,” Nantz pronounces to open the broadcast. “Yale, the 300-year old institution, the breeding ground for Wall Street executives and philanthropists, the home of the famous secret societies and the alma mater of our last three presidents, is in the NCAA tournament for the first time in 39 years.
“This is not Yale legend Walter Camp’s game of football. No, it’s basketball, the sport so many at the Ivy-covered New Haven campus have ignored for so long. But now, thrust into the spotlight against one of the nation’s most storied programs, these young men are out to show that they can hit their jump shots as successfully as they can hit the books.” Roll the music.
Yale President Richard Levin and Athletics Director Tom Beckett are sitting courtside, looking like proud fathers. “I just hope we play well enough to get a couple of good clips on the ‘One Shining Moment’ video at the end of the tournament,” Levin whispers into Beckett’s ear as the Bulldogs take the floor. “I love that thing.”
As All-Ivy captain Neil Yanke ’01 and Carolina’s All-American center Brendan Haywood shake hands, the Yalies in the crowd discuss which clever chants they’ll use in about two hours when they’ve stunned the Tar Heels with the biggest upset in tournament history. Secretly, they desperately hope that they won’t have to resort to the old ‘Harvard sucks’ routine if things get ugly.
The opening tip goes up — and I awake from my dream.
Or is it? In three weeks, we’ll know the answer.
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