The NCAA tournament is the most exciting three weeks in sports. Of course, I’m biased when I say that. I spend 12 months a year immersed in the sport; most people are only concerned with college hoops in the month of March.
But regardless of how much hoops you consume through out the season, the excitement of multiple games happening at once, the upsets sprung by teams like Lehigh and the fact that you are one Louisville win away from taking the lead in your office’s bracket pool is what makes this tournament great.
There is a downside, however. For every grand story line about a mid-major running through the tournament’s first weekend, there is a senior that is just so easy to root for that sees his collegiate career come to an end. Here are five kids that would ideally have permanent NCAA eligibility:
Jae Crowder, Marquette: On the court, with braids running down his back and a frame that looks like it belongs on the gridiron, Crowder is an intimidating presence. Scary, almost. Off the court, he’s friendly, humble and a great interview. That shouldn’t come as a surprise, however. Crowder almost didn’t make it to the Division I level. After spending a year at an unaccredited Junior College, Crowder had to do two years worth of work in one year at Howard College before enrolling at Marquette. Is it worth mentioning he won a national title that year was named tournament MVP?
Kim English, Missouri: Kimmie is one of the only athletes worth following on twitter, if not for the commentary he provides on teams and players than for the way uses poetry to talk about hoops. There is more to English than just a twitter feed, however. He overcame a stuttering problem in high school, which can’t be an easy thing to deal with when your name is Kim and you’re growing up in Baltimore.
Draymond Green, Michigan State: There are few leaders out there as strong as Green. I’m sure you’ve heard the stories and the anecdotes over the last few months, as Green as carried the Spartans from a group that lost their starting back court from a 15 loss team to a No. 1 seed, Big Ten regular season tri-champions and Big Ten tournament champs. That’s almost as impressive as Green’s skill-set; he’s the first player from a power conference to average 15 points, 10 boards and three assists since Tim Duncan.
Jorge Gutierrez, Cal: There may not be a player in the country that is more miserable to play against than Gutierrez, and I mean that as a compliment. He’s fiery, he’s tough, he’s never one to back down from a challenge and he will quite literally be in your jersey defensively. The Pac-12 Player of the Year, Gutierrez came a long way from a kid that immigrated from Mexico as a 15-year old and spent years living with two other kids his age in Denver to try and make their way as basketball players. Read this story on him.
Robbie Hummel, Purdue: What is there to say about Hummel that hasn’t been written a thousand times already? He was on the road to being an all-american before two torn ACLs in the span of 10 months cost this Purdue program two shots at the Final Four. He came back this season and earned First Team All-Big Ten honors. I’ll admit, I got dusty seeing him hold back tears while walking off the floor on Sunday night.