Aerris Smith

Fifteen unforgettable college basketball moments from 2014

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source:
AP

1. UConn men’s and women’s basketball teams both win national titles, only school to do so … and they’ve done once before

The UConn men’s basketball team won its second national championship on Apr. 7, an improbable run culminating in a wire-to-wire win over Kentucky. The following night, the women’s basketball team capped an undefeated season, repeating as national champion. Since 1999, the two programs have combined for 12 titles. UConn is the only school to have dual champions in the same season, first doing so in 2004.

2. Aaron Harrison’s 3-pointers vs. Michigan and Wisconsin put Kentucky in the national championship game

Kentucky entered the 2014 NCAA Tournament as a No. 8 seed, a disappointing seed given the preseason hype around the team. The Wildcats went through growing pains all season long, and hit their stride in March, reaching the national title game with dramatic wins over Wichita State, Louisville, Michigan and Wisconsin. In the latter two, Aaron Harrison cemented himself as one of the clutchest players in the tournament’s history with identical shots against Michigan and Wisconsin.

source: AP
AP

3. Lauren Hill inspires nation through her fight with inoperable brain cancer

By now you know the story of Lauren Hill, the freshman at Mount St. Joseph in Ohio. She was diagnosed last season with terminal brain cancer. She has inspired others by continuing to pursue her dream of playing college basketball while also raising awareness for Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma. The NCAA approved moving her team’s season debut up to Nov. 2, in which she scored the season’s first basket. Hill has appeared in several more games before being named honorary coach. So far, she has helped raise over $1 million.

4. UMass guard Derrick Gordon becomes the first openly gay player in Division I men’s basketball

Months after NFL Draft hopeful Michael Sam announced he was gay, UMass junior guard Derrick Gordon did the same, becoming the first active player in men’s Division I basketball to do so. Gordon, in his second season with the Minutemen, is averaging 11.5 points, 4.8 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 2.2 steals per game.

5. Rashad McCants reveals he took bogus classes at North Carolina in order to remain eligible

There has been controversy around the North Carolina athletic department for quite some time. In June, Rashad McCants, a member of the 2005 national championship team, accused Roy Williams of steering him into no-show, paper classes in order to remain eligible. This sparked the reopening of an NCAA investigation, in whichKenneth Wainstein, a former member of the U.S. Justice Department, found 18 years of academic fraud. McCants, who spent four years in the NBA, has been relatively quiet since claiming UNC and the NCAA were set to pay him $310 million.

6. Kentucky’s platoon system is unveiled

With nine McDonald’s All-Americas on the roster, and several holdover John Calipari was not expecting on having, how was Kentucky going to divide the play time so everyone would be satisfied? Easy, Coach Cal implemented a platoon system. It’s not always going to be the game plan, but it’ll certainly continue to be a talking point into 2015.

source:
AP

7. Wichita State runs the table, 31-0 regular season

Gregg Marshall followed a Final Four run in 2013 with 35 consecutive wins. The Shockers capped off a perfect 31-0 regular season with a 68-45 win over Missouri State. Wichita State would win the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament and advance to the Round of 32 where the Shockers met Kentucky in arguably the best game of the year. It took a Kentucky team, playing its best basketball of the season, to narrowly hand Wichita State a loss.

8. Adreian Payne’s friendship with 8-year-old cancer patient, Lacey Holsworth

In February, Jason King of Bleacher Report told the heartwarming story of Michigan State big man Adreian Payne befriending 8-year-old cancer patient, Lacey Holsworth. The nation really got to know Princess Lacey when she became part of Payne’s Senior Night. Lacey died in April. Payne and Michigan State gave her a brought her so much joy in her final months — inviting her to the East Regionals in New York and to Dallas to watch Payne in the college basketball dunk contest — and in return she touched countless lives, stretching far beyond the East Lansing campus.

9. Shabazz Napier tells reporters he goes to bed “starving” weeks before leading UConn to the national title

The NCAA has consistently been under fire for its lack of compensation for student-athletes. In March, UConn senior Shabazz Napier went on record stating, “I don’t feel student-athletes should get hundreds of thousands of dollars, but like I said, there are hungry nights that I go to bed and I’m starving.” That quote were originally from late March, but didn’t gain traction until CNN posted it right before the national title. Without UConn’s championship run, those comments likely don’t get the attention it did. The NCAA approved unlimited snacks a week later.

10. Doug McDermott scores his 3,000th point in a Creighton uniform

On Senior Night, Creighton forward Doug McDermott became only the eighth player in NCAA history to score 3,000 points. Naturally he surpassed the milestone with a 3-pointer en route to 45 points in a win over Providence. McDermott, now a rookie with the Chicago Bulls, ended with 3,150 career points.

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11. Jim Boeheim’s jacket becomes the focal point of an epic meltdown

The first matchup between Syracuse and Duke as ACC rivals was an instant classic with the Orange prevailing in overtime. The second meeting looked to become another thriller until Jim Boeheim had a Hall of Fame worthy tantrum. C.J. Fair was called for a controversial charge with 10.4 seconds left and the Blue Devils leading 60-58. Boeheim, quite simply, lost it. Racing down the sideline, saying words I can’t write on this website and getting ejected from the came. Duke was able to secure the win from the line thanks to the meltdown. This also sparked some of the greatest memes.

12. Austin Hatch, a two-time plane crash survivor, scores his first point for Michigan

The Michigan freshman has endured more than you can imagine over the years. He’s been involved in two plane crashes, resulting in the death of five family members. Michigan promised to honor his scholarship, and earlier this month he scored his first career points.

13. Mercer upset sets Duke, Kevin Canevari does the ‘Nae-Nae’

The upset of the tournament was No. 14 Mercer over No. 3 Duke in the Round of 64. Plenty came from this game. There was an awesome postgame interview. Lehigh, which upset Duke in a 2012, and Florida Gulf Coast, Mercer’s conference rival and previous tournament darling, tweeted congratulations. Duke legend Christian Laettner tweeted that this wouldn’t have happened during his career. But the most memorable was Mercer reserve guard Kevin Canevari doing the ‘Nae-Nae’.

14. Dayton’s Elite 8 run

The Flyers started Atlantic 10 Conference play 1-5 after cracking the top 25 rankings in November. Dayton recovered to win 23 games and become one of six bids from the A10, as a No. 11 seed. In the Round of 64, the Flyers were slotted against in-state rival Ohio State, upsetting the Buckeyes before taking down No. 3 Syracuse and then topping No. 10 Stanford in the Sweet 16. The run came to an end against top-seeded Florida. The run turned Dayton head coach Archie Miller into a prime candidate for several coaching vacancies, but he signed an extension in March.

15. Wofford’s Aerris Smith delivers a passionate speech in his final collegiate game

This may not be as well known as other moments in 2014, but this is truly an incredible speech. Wofford forward Aerris Smith had his senior season dominated by injuries. After the Terriers won the Southern Conference Tournament championship, Smith announced that he had played in his final game.

Not even Wofford’s coach saw them becoming the Southern Conference’s best program

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Wofford guard Karl Cochran (Getty Images)

For years, the Southern Conference has been considered one of the strongest mid-major conferences in the country.

The reason for that, more than anything, was the presence of Davidson at the top of the conference. Regardless of how good the Wildcats have been, ever since Steph Curry burst onto the scene, first leading Davidson to within a 3-pointer of the Final Four and then playing his way into the top 10 of the NBA Draft, the Wildcats have been a default pick as one of the nation’s best mid-major teams.

That’s no longer the case, however, as Davidson has made the move to the Atlantic 10 for this season. Elon, Appalachian State and Georgia Southern followed the Wildcats out the door, which mattered less for the basketball side of things than last season’s departure of the College of Charleston.

The news isn’t all bad for the league. VMI won 24 games last season and will be rejoining the conference after spending time in the Big South. East Tennessee State and Mercer, two quality basketball programs that are well-funded and well-supported, join the conference as well. And that’s before mentioning that Will Wade has turned Chattanooga into the epicenter of ‘Chaos’. Perhaps the best news for the SoCon is that the Wofford Terriers are currently the best program in the conference, which, for those of you that aren’t fluent in South Carolina basketball, is quite surprising.

That’s not me being mean, either.

Wofford’s head coach Mike Young will tell you the same thing, and he would know. He’s been with the program since 1989. He’s been the head coach since 2002. He knows the program better than anyone else in the entire world.

“Not a chance in hell,” Young said when I asked him if he ever thought the Terriers would be in this spot, and he wasn’t done driving the point home, either. “Nope. Not. A chance. In hell.”

And there’s a reason for that.

You see, when Young first joined the Wofford staff, he was joining a program that was making the transition from the NAIA to the NCAA. Division II, that is. It was almost a decade until the Terriers would move up to the highest level of college sports, but it would still take another 13 seasons before Wofford would make their first NCAA tournament.

That was in 2010.

And here we are in 2014, and the Terriers have won three of the last five automatic bids, own a pair of regular season titles during that stretch and will enter this season as the favorite to make the Big Dance once again.

“Never in my wildest dreams did I think that was attainable,” Young said. “But here we are. We’ve done it and we’ve it the right way and continue to do it the right way, and that’s a special feeling.”

The example that Young gives when he talks about doing things “the right way” is Aerris Smith, a senior on last year’s NCAA tournament team that just so happened to be the only holdover from the group that made the 2011 tournament. That didn’t mean he played much, however, as Smith had the kind of knee issues that would have forced him to sit out if his future was in professional basketball. He needed microfracture surgery, the procedure that helped turn Amare Stoudamire and Greg Oden into a shell of themselves.

But Smith couldn’t do anymore damage to himself by playing and putting off the surgery, so he put off the surgery, swam six mornings a week at the Y to stay in shape, sat out every single practice of his senior season and gave Young the seven or eight minutes a night off the bench that he knew the team needed to help them win.

By the time the regular season was over, Smith knew that he had had enough. He would play out the SoCon tournament and then get the surgery, regardless of how the Terriers did.

“He came into my office and, very matter of factly, no emotion, said, ‘Coach, I can’t do it anymore. I’m having trouble sleeping now. I’ve got to get this thing taken care of,'” Young said, pausing to keep compose himself. “I get emotional thinking about it.”

You know the rest of the story. Wofford won the automatic bid, and Smith announced that his career was over in a powerful, emotional postgame interview.

Smith is gone, coaching high school ball back in his native Charlotte, but everyone else on the Terrier roster is back this season. That includes nine of the 10 players on the Wofford roster that started at least five games last year.

Karl Cochran, who averaged 15.7 points and 3.0 assists, will likely enter the season as the SoCon Player of the Year even though he may not be the most valuable player on the roster. That title goes to Les Skinner, Young says, an undersized power forward that averaged 11.1 points and 8.5 boards through sheer determination.

“He’s the straw that stirs our drink,” Young says. “He doesn’t get the notoriety and accolades that some others may get, but we’re not nearly as good without him.”

Skinner and Cochran are both seniors, which means that, regardless of how this season plays out, Wofford will have some pieces to replace next season. But Spencer Collins, a 6-foot-4 guard that was the team’s second-leading scorer last year, has started every game in his first two seasons on campus. And according to Young, the team’s two most improved players — sophomore Jaylen Allen and junior Justin Gordon — both have a long time left in Spartanburg, South Carolina.

Wofford is a basketball power right now.

No one, quite literally, saw that coming.