From March Madness to the NBA

Thu, 03/18/2010 - 10:37pm
*Written Wednesday, March 17th

Antwan JamisonAntwan JamisonIt’s a sunny, mild St. Patrick’s Day in Cleveland and the party outside is going strong.  Inside Quicken Loans Arena it’s just another night, one of many in the grinding NBA season.  The players are used to the routine – morning shoot around, afternoon rest, pre-game therapy and another battle against the best basketball talent in the world.  The playoffs are all so close, but still nearly a month away.  The players and fans are ready for that time to come.

By contrast, tomorrow at noon the pep bands will be playing, the student sections will be rocking and America will be tuned into the most exciting moments of the basketball season, the NCAA Tournament.  At, we like to bridge the gap between the college game and the NBA.  What better way to do that than gather memories about March Madness from NBA players who reached the pinnacle?

When talking to the players it’s very clear that they loved their time playing college basketball.  Much like the rest of us, March Madness is their favorite time of year.  Newly acquired Cleveland Cavaliers forward, Antawn Jamison, describes his back-to-back Final Four trips with North Carolina as his favorite basketball memories.  “Making it to the Final Four in consecutive years was a great accomplishment,” said Jamison.  “I still keep in touch with the guys from that team and we often talk about that journey.”

The journey is the part we love, from the first round upsets to the thrilling Final Four finishes.  None may be more memorable than Kansas’ thrilling national championship victory over Memphis in 2008.  “My favorite memory was cutting down that net, well…” pauses Darnell Jackson.  “Actually, my favorite memory was seeing Mario’s (Chalmers) shot go through the net.  It was one of the most exciting moments of my life.”

As fans of both the college and pro games, it’s fun to compare and contrast the two.  Even the NBA guys differed in opinion when asked if there are similarities in pursuing a championship in college and pursuing one in the NBA.  “It feels like the same thing we were trying to accomplish at Carolina,” said Danny Green.  “The chemistry is good, we’re having fun and I couldn’t ask for a better team.”   

While chemistry is certainly one component and a common bond throughout all levels of basketball, the length of the NBA season presents other challenges.  “It was much easier in college,” according to Darnell Jackson.  “The NBA is just an everyday grind, both on the court and off.”

The college season might be easier because it’s less fatiguing, but the single-elimination format of the NCAA Tournament creates a completely different dynamic, says Antawn Jamison.  “In the Tournament you only have one opportunity, you can’t slip up.”  The heavyweights such as Kansas and Kentucky would likely advance in a five or seven-game series, but Cinderella only needs to wear the slipper for one night in order to dance in the NCAA Tournament.  That’s what makes this time of year so special.  Watching the George Masons, Valparaisos, and Western Kentuckys of the world knock off the big boys is what it’s all about.   

Beyond the upsets and brackets, the Tournament is a tremendous opportunity for a player to showcase his ability.  NBA scouts will be scattered around the country looking for individuals that rise to the occasion against the best teams in college basketball.  Scouts and draft fans alike will be searching for the next Mike Conley, Tyrus Thomas or Dwayne Wade.  These players climbed the draft boards based upon great Tournament play and Final Four runs.

At the end of the day though, we all want to know who is going to win this thing.  That’s why I went to the guys with experience for an answer.  “As long as no one’s team in this locker room wins, I’ll be happy,” mumbled Danny Green whose alma mater isn’t dancing this year.  While Antawn Jamison couldn’t hide the competitiveness of an old rivalry, “Carolina’s not in, so I don’t care.  I just know Duke isn’t going very far.”  Leave it to the one guy with skin in this year’s tournament to make an obvious prediction.  “I got Kansas winning the whole thing, of course,” beamed Darnell Jackson.   

Well, that’s not quite the kind of “expert” opinion I was looking for, so you’ll have to form your own opinion.  We’re all experts until tip-off at noon tomorrow, so fill out those brackets with your first round sleepers and Final Four contenders.  Then sit back and watch as memories are made and future NBA stars are born.  The current NBA guys can take a back seat for a few weeks, besides they will be watching the madness along with the rest of us.   

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