Freshmen get their first taste of the Tourney

Imagine if next year at this time you were not watching the NCAA Tournament on television but instead were playing in it. You quit filling out a bracket and reading all of the on-line projections, instead you are watching game film and practicing for the underdog that you rooted for a year ago. While that won't be happening to you, it did happen to all five of the Wildcats' freshmen.

A year ago Bret Brielmaier, Mohamed Tangara, Daniel Dillon, Jesus Verdejo and Jawann McClellan followed the Tourney on television. Like you and I, they had their brackets filled out and watched as fans. Sure Tangara, Dillon and McClellan had an extra eye on the Wildcats, they had signed their LOI's after all, but it was a whole different experience.

Now they ARE the NCAA Tournament. They are the young guys on television when the cameras scan the bench. They are in the arenas, conducting interviews and playing the games. They are the reason we fill out those brackets and pay our $5.00 for the office pool.

"It's incredible," Brielmaier said. "When you watch it on TV, you don't get all he behind the scenes of what it is all about. Now that I am living it, it is pretty unreal. It's a dream." Of course three of the new Wildcats are originally from another country, but they still understand the importance of the event.

Dillon watched games in his native Australia, but it was something you watched on cable, not a primetime event.

"I had no clue it was this huge," Dillon confessed. "I didn't know much about March Madness. I watched a couple of games on cable but I didn't know it was this crazy. I come from Australia where basketball is not the number one sport to coming here where everyone knows everything about college basketball."

Most of the freshmen were big-time Tournament followers. Tangara said that at his prep school all of the guys would watch the games. Brielmaier and his buddies would argue over which teams would win. For McClellan it was a chance to watch the Wildcats and the Arkansas Razorbacks, a team his family followed.

The players are still watching the games. Just because you are in the event, does not mean you don't watch the event. Before and after their games on Thursday the Cats were glued to the tube and after practice they were trying to get scores and updates.

"I've been following it a lot," said McClellan. "I'm still a kid, I'm still trying to see who does what. Hopefully upsets will happen, well hopefully not to us."

Some of the players know someone on another team in the event. McClellan watched AAU teammate Daniel Gibson lose last night when Texas fell to Nevada. Verdejo has an even closer friend playing. "I really follow the games because my boy plays for Kansas, Alex Galindo," explained Verdejo. "I played with him on the National team of Puerto Rico. I follow and keep track."

Don't be too worried about the Cats being too focused on the other games. It was tough getting them to talk about the tournament. Every answer eventually came back to UAB and the tough battle with the Blazers.

They may be enjoying the tournament, but they have the Blazers on their mind.

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