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Northwestern’s ‘historic’ NCAA tourney berth delights one of its rare ex-NBA players

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Evan Eschmeyer cherishes his six years at Northwestern in the 1990s. The last 25 years were filled with plenty of basketball-related pain, too.

There was nothing but joy as the 6-foot-11 Eschmeyer watched the NCAA Tournament Selection Show from his Colorado home on Sunday evening.

Northwestern made the NCAA Tournament field for the first time, ending a 78-year drought, the longest wait for any major conference school to join the Big Dance.

“It was historic, no other word for it,” he said by phone Monday. “A great deal of pride.”

No one player is associated with the Northwestern program’s history of futility more than Eschmeyer, who spent six years in Evanston in the 1990s. The Wildcats went 59-109 from 1993-99, including 19-85 in Big Ten play.

A rare top recruit to wear the Wildcats uniform, Eschmeyer is Northwestern’s only All-America team selection in the last 50 years and the only player drafted into the NBA in the last 40 years who played exclusively at the school.

In high school, Eschmeyer said his finalist list of schools included Notre Dame, Xavier, Michigan State and Purdue, all programs with NCAA Tournament histories.

“I wanted the highest-level education I could get, combined with the highest-level basketball,” the Western Ohio native said. “Northwestern was it. Today, that’s still the case.”

Eschmeyer also sought to reverse the program’s curse.

“I’m going to take these guys to the tournament, first year, go pro in two,” Eschmeyer said. “I was very arrogant.”

The pain started his freshman year. A broken foot kept Eschmeyer out those first two seasons.

Several doctors told him he’d never play again. He received a rare two medical redshirt years, making his college basketball stint the better half of a decade.

Eschmeyer led a Northwestern team that had won five games in 1994-95 to a 15-14 record in his last season. But that was only good enough for an NIT berth.

Eschmeyer grew up trying every which way to get out of school early in March to watch opening-round games. He filled out brackets for as long as he can remember. Even while at Northwestern, stuck in Evanston watching friends play across the country.

To this day. His 10-year-old twins registered for email accounts to enter bracket contests online starting a few years ago.

“It hurts that I never played,” he said. “It’s one of those few things that I have to live with as far as regrets for the rest of my life.”

In 1999, the New Jersey Nets took Eschmeyer with the 34th pick in the NBA Draft. But chronic knee problems forced him out of professional basketball after four seasons and five surgeries.

Eschmeyer remembers a nadir, feeling like somebody shot him in the leg warming up for a 2003 playoff game with the Dallas Mavericks. He received a cortisone shot solely for the purpose of propping him up should he need to enter the game later to foul somebody.

A doctor — from Northwestern – later told Eschmeyer that if he wanted to be able to play with his future kids, he needed to give up basketball.

Eschmeyer said he hasn’t played in an organized game since. Only in the last year has he played one-on-one with one of his 10-year-olds.

“I miss it daily,” he said. “Every day.”

Eschmeyer has lived in Colorado the last five years with his wife, former Northwestern player Kristina Divjak, and their three children.

He put that Northwestern education to good use. Eschmeyer is a CFO of a telecommunications development company, among other assets.

“Kind of a boring sort-of financial investor lifestyle,” he said, though his passions include hunting, hiking and teaching archery to area kids. The kind of pursuits that lead Midwesterners to the Rocky Mountains.

Eschmeyer’s basketball memories are mostly boxed up, but he is proud of one photo in his office. It’s of the center diving for a loose ball with his teammates.

Eschmeyer said he would gladly trade his personal success at Northwestern, which boosted his NBA Draft potential, to have played in the NCAA Tournament. But only if his teammates remained the same.

“It’s a special place where kids still stay for four years,” he said. “It’s a family. That’s what I’m most proud of.”

Eschmeyer is also proud of Northwestern coach Chris Collins. Eschmeyer said he actually hosted Collins on an unofficial recruiting trip to Evanston in the early ‘90s, even though Collins is one year older.

Collins, a McDonald’s All-American high school player, chose Duke, enrolling there after the Blue Devils won back-to-back national championships.

“It was definitely an uphill battle for Northwestern versus Duke,” Eschmeyer said, “but we got him out for a visit.”

The coach brought Eschmeyer back this season to speak to the team after a win over Iowa on Jan. 15.

“[Collins] made some very kind comments about what I had done when I was there, and just the history of the program,” said Eschmeyer, who tried to attend about two games per year. “I think that, from comments he made and the rest of the staff has made, it was important for them to build some sense of family around the program.”

Eschmeyer empathized with the current players carrying the weight of the program’s history.

“I don’t want to say they’ve been playing tournament games for the last four weeks, but there’s been a high level of pressure on them,” he said. “Everyone’s been counting games. Everyone’s been doing the math every time. That’s tough for anybody, especially when you’re 19.”

Eschmeyer has carried some of the burden, too. He hates being remembered as the star of a team that never made the tournament.

“Now [junior point guard] Bryant McIntosh will get phone calls instead of me,” Eschmeyer said, laughing. “It’s not that I don’t like a little attention once in a while, but no one likes attention for negative reasons, right? I will be very happy to pass being the last guy to be X, Y, Z to some young blood that has better things in their bios for what they accomplished at Northwestern.”

Eschmeyer spent the first day after the bracket announcement on message threads with friends and former players firming up travel arrangements.

Eighth-seeded Northwestern will play No. 9 Vanderbilt in Salt Lake City on Thursday. If it wins, No. 1 seed Gonzaga likely looms Sunday.

Eschmeyer will be in the crowd, perhaps the tallest person in the building wearing purple. His bracket will be filled out with Northwestern winning it all.

“There will be a sense of nostalgia,” Eschmeyer said. “I’ll be with a lot of old friends enjoying the moment.”

Police: Thief steals electronics from UNC basketball program

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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) — Police say someone stole thousands of dollars in electronics from the University of North Carolina men’s basketball team locker room and office while they were away for the ACC tournament.

UNC-Chapel Hill campus police said on Twitter that the break-in happened at the Dean Smith Center on March 9, and they released images of a man they believe may have been involved.

A police report says the thief managed to get into the team locker room and basketball office without forced entry, according to The Herald-Sun.

The report says the thief stole a PlayStation 4, Xbox One and clothing worth $2,900 that belonged to the athletic department. Police say the thief also stole a laptop worth $1,200 and a financial document worth about $3,000 belonging to one of the players.

No upsets over here: No. 1 seed UConn women set scoring records in first round game

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The No. 1 overall seed on the men’s side of the NCAA tournament made history on Friday night.

They because the first No. 1 seed to lose to a No. 16 seed in the first round of the tournament, as Virginia lost to UMBC, if you were still unaware.

Over on the women’s side, the bracket is nowhere near as broken, because UConn’s women made history, too. They set NCAA tournament records for … well, almost everything it seems like.

The Huskies were up 55-19 at the end of the first quarter of their first round game against St. Francis (PA). Those 55 points are an NCAA tournament record. They held a 94-31 lead at the half, another NCAA tournament record, and held on to win 140-52.

The 140 points that Geno Auriemma’s team scored was an NCAA tournament record. The 88 points that they won by was one point short of an NCAA tournament record 89 points that was set by Baylor in a win over Texas Southern last season.

Oh, and the Huskies set the record for more assists in an NCAA tournament game — 38 — for good measure.

All in all, I think it’s safe to say that the fans in Storrs had a better weekend than the fans in Charlottesville. Hopefully, that will allow them to forget the fact that the men’s basketball program has become a laughing stock.

2018 NCAA Tournament: Maryland Governor calls UMBC upset, so does NBC Sports’ writer son

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Never before in the history of the NCAA tournament as a No. 16 seed upset a No. 1 seed.

That was until Friday night, when UMBC sent the No. 1 overall seed Virginia packing.

And if you thought no one had picked that upset, you were wrong.

Let’s start with the Maryland Governor, who was clearly a homer in picking UMBC to not only beat Virginia, but to win a national title:

Never say never, but … that’s never going to happen bud.

But how about this: My son, who is two years old and based his picks on his hard and fast rule of “all the doggies”, called this upset!

He also called Penn over Kansas, Fullerton over Purdue and Butler winning a national title, but whatever.

That bracket is actually pretty good!

VIDEO: Virginia’s Ty Jerome does not appreciate dumb question after UMBC loss

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You have to give Virginia some credit.

After losing to No. 16 seed UMBC in the first round of the NCAA tournament, the players on that roster faced the music. They went up to the dais and answered question from reporters on national television.

There is no way they enjoyed that.

And you can tell because Ty Jerome had absolutely no interest in answering dumb questions from reporters:

He was not amused.

2018 NCAA Tournament: Saturday’s betting lines, point spreads, over-unders

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Here is the full TV schedule, with spreads, over-unders and betting lines, for every game for the first four days of the NCAA tournament.

(Lines are updated for Saturday morning.)

Pittsburgh: Kevin Harlan, Reggie Miller, Dan Bonner and Dana Jacobson

  • 12:10 p.m.: No. 1 Villanova (-11.5) vs. No. 9 Alabama, CBS (149.5)
  • 2:40 p.m.: No. 2 Duke (-9.5) vs. No. 7 Rhode Island, CBS (149)

Boise: Brian Anderson, Chris Webber and Lisa Byington

  • 5:15 p.m.: No. 5 Kentucky (-5.5) vs. No. 13 Buffalo, CBS (155)
  • 7:45 p.m.: No. 4 Gonzaga (-4) vs. No. 5 Ohio State, CBS (141.5)

Dallas: Spero Dedes, Steve Smith, Len Elmore and Ros Gold-Onwude

  • 6:10 p.m.: No. 3 Tennessee (-5) vs. No. 11 Loyola (Chicago), TNT (131.5)
  • 8:40: No. 3 Texas Tech (-1.5) vs. No. 6 Florida, TNT (133.5)

Wichita: Brad Nessler, Steve Lavin and Evan Washburn

  • 7:10 p.m.: No. 1 Kansas (-4.5) vs. No. 8 Seton Hall, TBS (154.5)
  • 9:40 p.m.: No. 3 Michigan (-3) vs. No. 6 Houston, TBS (135)