Such was the line from “Hoosiers,” the best basketball movie ever made, and the line repeated all over the Butler University Campus. It was one of the Top Five memories from one of the most inspirational NCAA Basketball Finals we’ve seen in a long, long time.
For all the hoopla that is “March Madness,” for once the April Apex really surpassed expectations, providing the kind of inspiring game that all too often doesn’t happen at the end of the three week tournament.
For many around the country–especially this year–our brackets have been busted long ago and the interest in the tourney has waned. What three weeks ago was a full nation rooting for W’s boils down to the die-hards rooting for their school, sports lovers who love a championship and a few teams who picked Duke to win it all.
Oh yes, and the fans, friends, family and alumni of Butler University!
Coming out of what’s called a “mid-major” conference–meaning that it’s not as heralded as many others–and going against the most prominent program of the last few decades, the Bulldogs gave Duke all it could handle. Here were my Top Five most inspiring aspects of the championship:
The Great Line. From USA Today to CBS Sports to the Internet Buzz, “”"Let’s win this one for all the small schools who never had the chance to get here,” the great line from one of the Hickory High players before the state championship game echoed as tiny Butler took on Duke.
David vs. Goliath. Butler was playing in its first NCAA Basketball Finals in its history. Duke has played in–and won–more than any team in history except for UCLA, Kentucky, Indiana and North Carolina.
Young Gun. Brad Stevens, at only 30 years old, is the 2nd youngest coach in all of Division 1 college basketball. He was born the year Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski started coaching at Duke.
The Last Shot. Somehow, in only 3.6 seconds, Butler’s Gordon Hayward got a rebound, made a move, dribbled all the way to half-court, got off a shot with one one-hundredth of a second left on the clock, hit the backboard, hit the rim and…missed. If this were Hollywood , that last shot would have gone in. In real life, it would have gone down as The Greatest Shot in NCAA Basketball Tournament History. Even the miss almost makes the Top Ten!
Everybody’s Welcome. Someone’s gotta say it, so I will. I absolutely loved the diversity on the floor. At any given point, Duke and Butler had about the same number of African-American players as they did white players. We can work on an equal number of other nationalities in future years, but this really felt like a representation of a diverse group of student-athletes. Even two were scholar-athletes. I hope many young people–of all races–will aspire to do their best in whatever they’re doing.