It’s just a game. It doesn’t matter if you win or lose, as long as you try your hardest.
That is what I was told growing up as I played Jr. Jazz basketball from my coaches and my mother. But for me, it was more than that. It was and always will be.
But basketball gets taken up a notch when March rolls around. Each win and each loss has substantial results to the teams. Heck, even the reserves act as if every made basket is a game-winner as they jump around, waving towels and doing the Nae Nae.
Trying your hardest and not winning hurts, especially in March. There are no second chances. It is a vicious cycle. One bad game can ruin all that you worked for the whole entire season. That upset in December doesn’t matter if you can’t get deep into the tournament, while some teams are left with only a chance, blah blah.
Teams like Mercer, which started five seniors for every game this season, showed a youthful Duke team that it takes more than individual excellence to win the big games. Harvard showed that being smart does score points, not only on tests but also on the court, as they continued their underdog dominance.
I think March Madness means more to the smaller schools. It is their one chance to shine in the national spotlight. As they played all year in obscurity, the chance to play in a packed gym is something some teams dream of. It also gives them a chance to put themselves on the map — you can look at Gonzaga as a prime example. They burst onto the scene as a No. 10 seed in 1999, as they were able to beat prestigious programs such as Stanford and Florida. They eventually fell to Connecticut, but those two weeks in March has changed that program for the better. They have played in the tournament in every year since, with their best finish being in the Elite Eight.
What Damian Lillard has done for the program cannot be emphasized too much, but can you imagine what a tourney run would do for the Wildcat men’s basketball team in the future? Coach Randy Rahe has emphasized that their presence on the recruiting trail has changed in the past few years, but a late tourney run would probably help that tenfold.
As I sat in the press conference after their loss to Arizona, I was able to see two different sides of the March Madness. I saw Davion Berry, a man who has made endless big shots in his time with Weber, fighting back tears while reporters sought his feelings about his final collegiate game.
Then there was Joel Bolomboy and Richaud Gittens, one a sophomore and the other a freshman, with a different look in their eyes. They had a look of determination, not only to return to the Big Dance but to do some damage in the coming years. The experience that they garnered in those 40 minutes are going to pay dividends for the coming years.
Whatever the future brings for these Wildcats, whether it contains disappointment or happiness, the future is bright, and I am sure we all hope it will involve a deep run into the tournament and that they’ll leave their mark on college basketball.