For some people, it takes years to find true love. For me, I found it at the ripe old age of six years old.
In 1999, I was introduced to a bracket—a March Madness bracket—and I have been smitten ever since. If I could, I would put a ring on it. Hey, that’s a good idea!
The 1999 tournament was incredible. I picked the University of Connecticut to win the tournament because I liked their Husky mascot and their Husky point guard, Khalid El-Amin.
El-Amin and Richard “Rip” Hamilton led UConn to the title that year, upsetting one of the best Duke teams of all time in a nail-biting championship game. I loved UConn’s swagger, even though I didn’t know what swagger meant at age six.
Like I said, I did know what love was at age six, and nothing sealed my love more than UConn’s Elite eight game in 1999.
I was rooting hard for my new team, but it seemed as if its salty coach and its swagger had hit a roadblock with some random team from Spokane, Wash. You may have heard of this team by now, but in 1999, this team was the nation’s new darling.
That’s right, I’m talking about the Gonzaga Bulldogs. 1999 was the year that they made their mark. Dan Monson had a team without top talent that was taking UConn to the brink. They led by one point at halftime, and all of a sudden, I realized how much I cared about the outcome.
This game is exactly why basketball is unbelievable. Maybe more than any other sport, team chemistry and coaching can dictate the path of a team. You need talent to win, but a team like Gonzaga in 1999 used team defense and outside shooting to shock the world.
Could they do it to UConn too?
As the game was drawing to a close, my parents didn’t know what to do with me. I was jumping up and down, cheering after every basket, pleading with the UConn players to pull victory out of the jaws of defeat. As I look back, I was kind of like a mini Jim Calhoun. OK, maybe I’m not as stubborn, but still, UConn needed the win.
Sure enough, there would be no Final Four for Gonzaga. El-Amin dribbled out the end of the game and the Huskies continued their dance. Strangely enough, I was sad for Gonzaga. They almost ruined my championship pick, but I couldn’t help but love how they played.
As the next 13 years passed, Gonzaga became a national power. Its fans show the passion that makes college basketball so great, and it recruits top players.
As for UConn, who knows where El-Amin is. Hamilton is still in the NBA—no facemask anymore, unfortunately. Jim Calhoun just retired after two more national titles and lots of rants on the sideline.
Fortunately for me, Calhoun’s retirement doesn’t mean I am retiring my love for the game. That UConn team ushered me into a life of caring too much for the games. I can’t handle waiting seven months from the end of the season until the beginning of the next.
Thank goodness the season starts next week. Hopefully this year will be a success, just as my first March Madness Bracket was. This year is going to be wide open. There is no clear-cut favorite (unlike last year where Kentucky and Mr. Uni-brow were unfair), and we could find a new team like Gonzaga in 1999 or George Mason in 2006 or Butler in 2010.
I have no doubt the season will be a success. College basketball never fails. Find your UConn this year if you haven’t already, and you’ll see what I mean. You’ll fall in love. But don’t you even begin to think that you can steal my true love. It’s all mine.
Tyler Bradley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.