Monday, April 8, 2013

March Madness Memories

Hey Everyone! This is Adrienne's husband Daniel, and she has been gracious to let me write a guest post on her blog. As this year’s NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament comes to a close, I wanted to share my personal memories of the event, beginning with the first recollections as a young child and continuing through my first hand experience as a member of the Oklahoma staff from 1999-2001.  Many of these stories are of course tied to OU, though certainly not all.  My hope is this will stir your own memories, and I would love to hear from you in the comments about your own favorite NCAA Tournament moments.

I’ve been filling out an NCAA Tournament bracket as long as I can remember.  As a kid it was an annual tradition to go over it team by team with my grandfather, to see where we agreed, or most importantly, where we disagreed!  To this day I will hear from my grandparents, now in their 80s, asking me if I’ve filled out my bracket.  This is usually followed a week later with, “Well how does your bracket look?”  Like most of you, the answer is usually “Not so hot.” In preparation for the Tournament I would take a piece of poster board and hand draw the bracket to hang on my wall; I am not an artist so I definitely remember some crooked regions. What's more, filling in the bracket poster wasn't any fun after OU lost.

I just remember pieces of Tournament history from the first ten years of my life.  There was Rollie Massimino’s unranked and #8 seed Villanova Wildcats becoming the lowest seed to ever win the NCAA Tournament in 1985, defeating the heavily favored Georgetown Hoyas with coach John Thompson and star Patrick Ewing.  Then in 1987 Keith Smart knocked down this shot to lead Indiana over Syracuse in the championship game, my first recollection of a true game winner.  

And then there was 1988.  I remember getting permission to leave my 4th grade class to go down to Mrs. DeBoard’s classroom at Charles Haskell Elementary, because she was showing the #1 seed Sooners’ first round game against Tennessee-Chattanooga.  I remember my good friend (and now KOCO sportscaster) Bryan Keating was an OU fan back then, and he taught me how to take stats during a game.  I went home after school, watched the game again (I had taped it), and took my own stats (yea I’m that guy).

Oklahoma marched its way to the Final Four in Kansas City with relative ease; the players even recorded a music video to celebrate their journey (obviously the kiss of death!).   After taking care of Arizona in the semi-finals, only #6 seed Kansas stood in the way of OU’s first ever basketball national championship.  But Danny Manning wasn’t going to let the Sooners beat him for a third straight time that season, and the Jayhawks won the title 83-79 at the old Kemper Arena.  I balled my eyes out.  One of my random memories from that same year was Bill Cosby agreeing to wear a Duke sweatshirt on The Cosby Show if the Blue Devils beat his Temple Owls.  They did and he did!   

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1989 was memorable because my basketball coach at the time predicted Michigan to win the title, which they did.  You might also recall Wolverines’ head coach Bill Frieder accepted the head coaching job at Arizona State prior to that year’s Tournament, with the intention of leaving after it was over.  MIchigan athletic director and legendary former football coach Bo Schembechler said “a Michigan man will coach Michigan, not an Arizona State man.”  And with that, Frieder was forced to leave early and assistant coach Steve Fisher coached the Wolverines in the tournament, and took them all the way to the championship.  Fisher was given the the job permanently and would soon recruit the famous Fab Five to Ann Arbor.

At 11 years old (1990), my grandparents took me to see my first NCAA Tournament live and in-person. My good friend Bonner Gonzalez and his grandparents were there as well. Unfortunately the fun ended with #8 seed North Carolina’s Rick Fox hitting the game winning shot to knock out #1 seed Oklahoma 79-77.  I remember the play vividly from our seats in the top row of the “Drum” in Austin, TX.  I also remember turning around and slamming my hand against the wall behind me, something my grandparents remember well and remind me of often.  I guess I had matured in two years, going from sadness to anger in displaying my displeasure with losing!

Jerry Tarkanian’s great UNLV teams were so much fun to watch in the early ‘90s.  That period was also the beginning of 20+ years of dominance by Coach K and Duke.  And who can forget the Christian Laettner shot to beat Kentucky in the 1992 regional final?  If there was any doubt of my long-term addiction to the Tournament, that game and that play sealed the deal.  

I mentioned the Michigan Fab Five earlier, and in 1992 and 1993 they were in the title game.  Chris Webber, Juwan Howard, Jalen Rose, Jimmy King and Ray Jackson ushered in a new era of youth, cockiness and of course, baggy shorts.  And who can forget Webber calling a timeout, down by two with :11 seconds left against North Carolina in the ‘93 game, when Michigan was out of timeouts?  The Wolverines would go on to lose in what would be the last game the Fab Five would play together, as Webber left for the NBA after that, his sophomore season.

The 1994 Tournament was the first to be hosted in my hometown of Oklahoma City since before I was born, and I was excited and fortunate to attend.  #1 seed Arkansas began their national championship quest in OKC, knocking off North Carolina A&T and Georgetown.  I’ll never forget A&T’s band; they were so much fun.  Also in OKC Tubby Smith launched Tulsa into a run of Tournament success by knocking off UCLA and Oklahoma State to get to the Sweet 16.  Since going to eight Tournaments in ten years under Smith, Steve Robinson and Bill Self, including two Sweet 16s and an Elite 8, the Golden Hurricane hasn’t been back.  Amazing.    

1995-1998 was a rollercoaster ride for an Oklahoma fan.  In some ways it was an incredibly exciting time, with new coach Kelvin Sampson and his lucky blue denim shirts, and stars Ryan Minor and Nate Erdmann.  In fact, the 1995 Sooners began a streak of nine straight NCAA Tournament appearances.  However it was also a frustrating time; in each of those years OU lost its first round game.  The 1995 loss to Coach Fran Fraschilla and #13 seed Manhattan was particularly tough to take!   

That same year you also had the great Oklahoma State team that went to the Final Four with Bryant “Big Country” Reeves and three point gunner Randy Rutherford.  They fell short against eventual champion UCLA, but what a fantastic run.  The Bruins had been fortunate to even make it to the Final Four, needing a thrilling buzzer beater from Tyus Edney to ward off an upset to Missouri in the second round.  I’ll also never forget that Final Four because my friend Bryan, now an OSU fan, had taken a pitch to the mouth in one of our baseball games earlier that week.  I felt so bad for him having to watch his team in the Final Four while only being able to each soup and milkshakes through a straw!  

Finally, in 1997 my best friend (and future best man at my wedding) Bobby Soltani and I traveled to Tucson, Arizona to watch OU play in the Tournament at the McKale Center.  We were fortunate to see Wake Forest with Tim Duncan, Utah with Keith Van Horn, and of course Stanford’s Brevin Knight who was too much for our Sooners.  The Cardinal was seemingly at the free throw line every possession of that second half, and they won going away 80-67.  It was a long 14+ hour drive home the next day.  Speaking of Arizona, the Wildcats won the championship that year and birthed the Billy Packer phrase “ (Myles) Simon says championship.”

1998 was memorable because once again the first two rounds of the Tournament were hosted by Oklahoma City and I was fortunate to attend.  One of the major storylines going in was the return to Oklahoma of former OU coach Billy Tubbs, now with TCU.  His #5 seed Horned Frogs lost in an upset to #12 Florida State, though that story was quickly forgotten due to the mayhem that came afterward.

#1 seed Kansas, which was extremely talented led by Raef LaFrentz and Paul Pierce, looked to begin their championship quest in OKC.  However the #8 seed Rhode Island Rams, led by former UCLA coach Jim Harrick and electric guards Tyson Wheeler and Cuttino Mobley, knocked out the Jayhawks 80-75 in the second round.  It was a stunner as many had picked Kansas to win the title that year.

URI’s victory over Kansas or Tubbs’ loss would have been the most remembered moments in that regional, if it weren’t for Bryce Drew and his Valparaiso Crusaders.  It’s hard to believe it’s already been 15 years since one of the all-time best moments in Tournament history, along with the Laettner shot and N.C. State’s buzzer beater in 1983.  I feel so lucky to have been in the building that day, and will never forget it.

One of my favorite memories is 1999 when Oklahoma finally got over the hump, and as a #13 seed knocked off #4 seed Arizona for it’s first Tournament win since I saw them beat Towson State in that 1990 first round game in Austin.  They then went on to the Sweet 16 where they faced #1 seed Michigan State.  I was in college and volunteered with our church youth group.  It was spring break and we took a few of the high school guys skiing in Colorado.  We were staying in a cabin in the middle of nowhere, and it was a challenge to find a place to watch the game.  I’ll never forget our nice little group of high school and college age church guys walking into the only sports bar within 100 miles to just sit, drink water and Coke, and watch the game.  The most memorable moment probably came when Spartan star Mateen Cleaves ran over OU’s star Eduardo Najera and knocked him out.  He would return after getting stitches in his chin and play the rest of the game.  What a tough player.  Michigan State would go on to the Final Four, but OU was finally over the 1st round hump!

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I’ll finish with 2000 and 2001, which were special years for me because I had the privilege of being part of the Oklahoma staff and experiencing the Tournaments first hand.  The first year we were back in Tucson as a #3 seed,  and lost to #6 seed Purdue after defeating #13 Winthrop in the first round.  The loss was especially tough because the region had opened up with #1 seed Arizona losing in the second round to #8 Wisconsin.  The Badgers would go on to the Final Four that year.  My favorite memory of that trip is going to eat at an authentic Mexican food restaurant (i.e. not Tex-Mex), and having trouble ordering chips and queso.  They didn’t have queso, but my good friend and fellow staff member Josh Prock wasn’t having any of it.  He implored the waiter to just tell the chef all we wanted was a cheese dip for our chips.  No exaggeration here, the waiter came back out several minutes later with a bowl of semi-melted Velveeta.  Needless to say we stuck with the salsa!

Things didn’t work out much better in 2001 when we traveled to Memphis as a #4 seed and lost to #13 seed Indiana State in overtime.  I’ll never forget a picture that ran in the Daily Oklahoman the next day of senior guard Kelly Newton crouched on the floor in disbelief.  It’s hard to describe the feeling of reality setting in that your season has ended, especially when it’s in upset fashion.  I was so glad to have my parents in Memphis with us. In fact, my dad describes a funny moment when Coach Sampson knocked on his door at the hotel looking for someone else.  I don’t remember that but I’m glad my dad did and reminded me of it!  I’m so appreciative of all those experiences, and most of all the wonderful people I met along the way.

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I could keep going, as things really got fun the next two years for OU with runs to the Final Four and Elite 8, but that’s for someone else to tell; perhaps a college kid who was 10 at the time and just beginning to build his or her Tournament memories.  I hope I get to read it.  

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