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"One Shining Moment" Our Favorite March Madness Moments

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coach john wooden last championship

Hey, guess what? Not sure if you heard about this but the nation’s college (and high school) basketball teams are engaging in their annual end-of-year tournaments.

Don’t feel bad if you’ve never heard of these tournaments. Even though there are a lot of them, they kind of keep ‘em hush-hush promotionally speaking. They really don’t like to draw attention to themselves. But if you search hard enough you might be able to find the really good one: it’s called the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s annual basketball tournament. Have you heard about this? I guess they’ve been doing this for awhile.

They start with a bunch of teams and they play all around the country. But it’s not a round robin tournament or double elimination. Get this: if you lose once, you’re automatically eliminated. How hardcore is that?!? After a week or two of games, the field is whittled down to 16 teams, known as “sweet” teams, and then ultimately two teams play for what the National Collegiate Athletic Association calls their “National Championship”, which oddly enough does not involve a ship of any kind. It involves getting a big trophy, cutting up some netting and getting yell-talked at by Dick Vitale. So in support of those men and women around the country who strive to put inflated leather balls through horizontal metal circles, here’s our list of Our Favorite March Madness Memories. 

Bryce's Buzzer Beater
Kevin Kizer

I grew up in a small town just outside of South Bend, Ind., known as Mishawaka where I attended Penn High School in the late ‘80s. While there, I played on the varsity tennis team and among my teammates – which included a future drummer for Faith Hill, Brooks and Dunn and Jewel (Trey Grey) and a future Indiana Commerce Secretary (Nate Feltman) – was Scott Drew, who today is the head basketball coach at Baylor.

At the time, his father, Homer, was a very successful basketball coach at Bethel College in Mishawaka, where he won a couple of NCCAA titles – that National Christian College Athletic Association. Scott had a younger brother named Bryce who was, as is the case with most younger brothers, a bit of an annoyance. Right next to our high school’s tennis courts was a blacktop basketball court. If Bryce happened to come by practice, the basketball court is where you would find him.

Occasionally this overly energetic youth would make the mistake of wandering onto our courts. This, naturally, could not be tolerated and across the sea of green courts a call would be heard: “Red Ball!!” Red Ball is a game and quite simple to play: grab a bunch of tennis balls, pick out a human target, attack, repeat. And little Bryce was usually the target. Well, he had to learn some way.

Fast forward a few years and that little annoying kid – possibly emboldened by our incessant attacks – had become Indiana’s Mr. Basketball. Since he was Mr. Basketball he probably should have played at a much larger school, but – and it was no surprise to those of us who knew the family – Bryce decided to play for his dad who was now coaching at Valparaiso University.

Jump a few more years ahead and “little Bryce” and the 13th-seeded Valparaiso University are losing in the final seconds of their first round game to 4th-seeded Ole Miss. Valpo has the ball under its own hoop, is down by two points and only has 2.5 seconds on the clock. What “little Bryce” did in those last 2.5 seconds will never be forgotten by anyone who is a fan of the sport. It was undoubtedly one of the most dramatic buzzer beaters ever in March Madness. That’s a long way from our high school tennis courts. And for one shining moment, that little kid from Mishawaka was on top of the March Madness world.

How great of a moment was it? So much so that Axe felt the need to bastardize it for their own advertising:

Hoosier Champion?
Paul Gordon

Like Kevin I am a native Hoosier so you can guess I can list many memorable March Madness moments. One is the Keith Smart shot to win the 1987 NCAA championship over Syracuse. Another is being there for Manual’s last three state titles with my son.

But the one that sticks out the most for me occurred in March 1981. My high school alma mater, Vincennes Lincoln High School, made it to the championship game in Indianapolis. This was a big deal in little Vincennes, population of about 20,000 at the time. And in 1981 there was no class system in Indiana, so the Vincennes team was playing for the championship against much larger Anderson High School.

I was living in Galesburg at the time, reporting for the newspaper there. By luck, I was able to listen to the afternoon semi-final game on the radio, sticking the antenna of a radio outside the second floor window at my house. But for the championship game I could not get even a hint of a signal. I was very frustrated. So I called my Dad, who was in the hospital at that time recovering from gall bladder surgery (they didn’t just send you home the same day back then) and I had him put the receiver next to the television speaker in his room. I listened to the entire game that way, long distance. But hearing my team win the state championship and listening to the horns honking when my Dad held the phone up to the window and especially getting to share the moment with my Dad was worth the rather large phone bill we received the following month.

That is a memory I will cherish forever.

Since there’s no video footage of that Vincennes win, here’s “The Shot” by Keith Smart:

Best Pep Talk Ever
Tim Cundiff

It was the year 2000, my senior year at Peoria Notre Dame High School. It was senior night at old Spalding Gymnasium. PND Irish vs. Manual Rams. Along with the rest of the seniors, I just finished escorting my parents onto the court as part of the senior night festivities. As I’m tightening up my Nike shoes in the “tunnel”, the coach of the Rams came over towards our group of seniors. Coach Wayne McClain, coach of the 4-time Illinois State Champion Rams, approached to say a few words of thanks to our group of seniors. He took a minute to congratulate us on our careers on the hardwood. He wished us all well in our future endeavors. And he wished us good luck in the game that night.

Four quarters later, the Irish student body rushed the floor in pandemonium! We had defeated Manual for the first time in Peoria Notre Dame school history!! It was a 10-point victory, but it meant so much more than just that point-spread. For a team that has battled in the Mid-State 6 conference against the perennial powers of Manual, Central and Richwoods, this victory was special. For our group of seniors, who never had a chance to be basketball conference champs or never had a chance to survive deep into March Madness State Tournament, this was our victory! This was our “one shining moment”.

Afterwards, I think Coach McClain might have wanted to re-think his decision to wish us good luck.

Wooden's Last Win
By Troy Smith

One of the earliest sports memories I have is watching the 1975 NCAA title game with my dad. The game pitted Joe B. Hall's Kentucky Wildcats against UCLA and the legendary John Wooden, who was coaching the final game of his career. Kentucky had knocked off unbeaten and #1-ranked Indiana in the regional final while UCLA had pulled out a win over Louisville in the semifinal game on a buzzer-beater by Richard Washington, who would end up being named Most Outstanding Player of that year's tournament. 

I remember arguing with my Dad before the game about who would win. I thought Kentucky's defeat of Indiana, plus the fact that they were ranked higher than UCLA, made them the favorite. But Pops was taking the emotional angle. He felt that the Bruins would rise up and win one last title to send Wooden out in a blaze of glory. As it turned out, the old man was dead-on. UCLA won 92-85 and I don't remember it ever being in doubt. It was a good lesson for a 7-year-old kid and one I never forgot - the most talented team doesn't always win, and that's what makes March Madness so exciting.

About the Author
A Juilliard-trained writer, Kevin Kizer has fought against numerous world-champion writers during his career, besting the reigning middle weight writing champion in an exhibition bout in Helsinki in 1976. He also played a crucial role on the U.S. gold-medal winning writing team during the 1984 Pan-Am games, where he came off the bench in dramatic fashion to write the winning prepositional phrase just as time expired.