It’s no secret that I love March Madness.
To me, the NCAA Tournament stands out from any other sporting event. Think about it. The tournament brings teams from all over the country to compete in venues across the nation with basketball enthusiasts optimistically filling out brackets and cheering on, not one, but many teams. There is also plenty of drama. It always amazes me when teams like the Florida Gulf Coast Eagles come from out of nowhere to do well and the favorites, like my own Indiana Hoosiers, fall short. In the Hoosiers case, it was the swarming Syracuse zone defense that unfortunately ended our run.
Most importantly, though, each year the tournament brings to light inspiring stories of young athletes beating the odds to do great things.
This year that’s especially true. When Kevin Ware broke his leg in several places in the game against Duke, our first collective reaction was shock and horror. We could see our own reaction reflected in the faces of the players and Louisville coach, Rick Pitino. With the broken bones protruding from Kevin’s leg, both teams appeared traumatized.
The story could have ended there, but it didn’t because Kevin Ware did something that we oftentimes only see in movies.
He inspired his team to win.
While others might have rightly writhed in pain or passed out, Kevin made sure to encourage his teammates to go out there and win. He willed them to shake off the shock and not only win but win in very convincing fashion.
Now, the Louisville Cardinals will go to Atlanta, where Kevin is from, and compete as one of the very elite, Final Four. After successful surgery, Kevin is expected to join his teammates in Atlanta as they compete for the National Championship.
When the Cardinals arrive in Atlanta, they will be playing for more than just a trophy. They’ll be playing for Kevin Ware and the inspiration he gave them to overcome a horrible tragedy. It’s an amazing story.
Basketball is full of those stories.
My favorite, of course, is the story of the little team from Milan, Indiana, who won the State Championship and inspired the film, Hoosiers.
Today, there is a lot of talk in the media about what is wrong in college sports. When it comes to the college game in general, there is a belief by some that college players should be paid. For college basketball, there is also concern about the one and done aspect of the game where young players stay in college for a year and then head to the NBA.
No matter where you stand on these issues, I think one thing is abundantly clear. The love of the game and experience of playing is more valuable than any amount of money. I personally believe that when you are a professional, you get paid, but when you’re a college athlete you should play for the love of your school. When college players feel they should be paid, I think it takes away from this important part of college athletics. Professionals can change teams many times over. College athletes play for one school and that’s where their allegiance will always remain no matter what they ultimately do in their professional careers.
The NCAA Tournament is about as good as it gets in sports. The Kevin Ware story this year makes this even more evident. Hopefully, more people will watch the Final Four this year and experience the magic of the game. Those of us from Indiana grew up knowing this. Soon the rest of the country will know this, too.
I am rooting for Louisville this year since my Hoosiers are out of the tournament. I was born in Kentucky and have always liked the teams from both states. This year, I’m pretty sure Louisville gained many more fans going into the final round of the tournament, inspired by the courage of a young player with an amazing attitude and story.