My earliest memory of the NCAA final game was in 1981 on the day that President Reagan was shot. It was pre-cable news days so there wasn't the wall to wall coverage that would happen today and the game went on pretty much without a hitch. The three things I remember most from that game were Isiaih Thomas breakaway layups, Randy Wittman, and Bob Knight saying after the game that Hank Iba (I think it was him) told him to never be the first coach to call a timeout.
After that game, I became hooked on the NCAA. Perhaps surprisingly, or because my father wasn't a big sports fan, I didn't watch any of the Bird-Magic matchup the year before. I don't think I even heard of Bird before he became a Celtic, although I would later become a huge fan.
After the Indiana game, the next team I remember pulling for was NC State. Even though I was in Connecticut, I became totally enamored with their run to the Championship. I remember how much fun it was to watch Derek Whiittenburg play. They were an awesome team and I remember jumping up and down when they got the last second dunk. That team personified Cinderella and I was completely enthralled by Jimmy V. A couple of summers later I saw him speak at a Coaches Clinic at Fairfield U and he had the same intensity when teaching as he did coaching.
After NC State, the next team I loved was Villanova. That was mainly because of Harold Jensen who grew up a few towns away in Trumbull. He was a great high school basketball player and had the reputation for being a stellar person, too. It was easy to root for him. His first year at Villanova was kind of a bust, but Harold was a worker and he began to get some minutes during the Big East tournament his sophomore year.
From there, his minutes kept building and by the time Nova made it to the Championship I could not have been more excited for Villanova if I had been a student there. Their win over Georgetown has to be one of the best games I have ever seen. They played a perfect game.
I later had a chance to meet Harold at the Fairfield University basketball camp and he could not have been a nicer or classier person. I remember he spoke to the camp and talked about his work ethic and how it helped make him the player he was. The first story he told was that when he was at 5-Star basketball camp and it was time for recreation, he stayed on the court and worked on his game. That was amazing to me. He was already a top recruit who was dominating high school teams in Connecticut, but he was committed to working on his game. The other story I remember is that he said he would go to the Gym and run wind sprints between classes at Villanova. I think he said that he was able to run about 75 sprints between classes and still have time to shower before the next one began.
What a great work ethic and inspiration and it paid off when he didn't miss a shot during the Championship game.
Ever since those first experiences as a fan March has always been one of my favorite. The tourney has given me so many great memories and it looks like this year's is already off to a great start with both the Dayton and Harvard upsets. I can already hear Warren Buffet letting out a sigh of relief.
This is the most wide-open the field seems to have been in a while and I won't be shocked by whoever wins. I'm definitely pulling for my Dukies but I'm a little worried about their lack of big presence inside. It would be great to see a school like Witchita State or Iowa State win the title.
Whoever wins, it should be a great ride and I can't wait to watch some games each of the next three weekends. If they are as exciting as the Harvard matchup, this tournament may be one of the most thrilling in history.