March means different things to different people. To some, it marks the beginning of Spring. To others, it's the first chance to get outside and play catch. To the Irish, well, it's a chance to prove once again that you are Irish.
But for those of us who attended the University of Kansas, it's another chance at destiny. It's a chance to re-create magic or, some would say, a miracle. It is an opportunity to sit at the feet of our elders and hear for the umpteenth time about Wilt and three overtimes. To those of us who live and die with the Jayhawks, it's simply about the tournament.
Tournament time is a special time. It's a time where family and friends gather together around the television on Selection Sunday to hear Jim Nantz say the immortal words, "the Jayhawks earn the number one seed in Midwest and a first round match-up with Coppin State." Then a moment or two later, if you listen carefully, you can hear the collective chorus of Jayhawk fans nationwide exclaim, "we always get put in the toughest bracket!" Of course, the Syracuse Orange, the Dookies, the Hoosiers, and the Bruins are singing a similar song. The reason is because they are all tough brackets. The tournament is a hard thing to win. Somewhere, somehow, you have to beat an inspired Austin Peay team before you win the opportunity to play Duke and Arizona back-to-back. Talk about your tough months. November has got nothing on March.
The beauty of the tournament is that for about four days every tourney team has figured out a way to get to the Final Four. "If UC-Santa Clara can knock off North Carolina -- and I think they can -- and then Texas goes down to a gritty Ball State team, and that Richmond team could give UCONN fits, well, that opens it right up for us to go all the way!"
We've all done it. We've all been there. Sadly, we've been there enough to know that there is no easy path. You want to see April and San Antonio? You better put together six tough games in a row, and your heart better be prepared to endure the last second three point heave from the coach's son at a small Indiana school. A 5'10 gym rat may have been working his whole life to steal your Final Four experience from you, and every so often, he does.
Yep, if you want to taste New Orleans, Indianapolis, or a chilly Minneapolis in April, you better bring all you got in March. You better have a point guard who knows how to lead a team under pressure. You better have a young freshman with all the talent in the world who is just too plain cocky to know he's supposed to be nervous. It might be nice to have a warrior under the bucket who would give his right arm for his team and has. Oh, and you sure as hell better have Keith Langford. Having a former champion and national player of the year on your bench can't hurt. You also might want to bring along a top coach who isn't forced to answer yet another question about never having won it all.
Then you may want to take along a national fan base. A legion of fans that will show up in Dayton, Salt Lake, Atlanta, and East Rutherford. An army of fans that will provide enough noise to drown out the opponents band, and yet be gracious enough to compliment Mississippi State Bulldog fans on an excellent effort. A group of people who understand just how difficult it is to win a national championship because they have been there and succeeded, and been there and fallen short. Bring these folks along because they just might come in handy.
Then when you have all the right players, the best coach, an invigorated fan base, you earn the right to go to Charlotte. You get to play Duke in their own backyard, and why does Coach K always look so damn confident?
Yous' put down your money and yous' take your chances. Most years you are simply going to come up short. There is only room for only one. That is why it means something. You have to have the Arizona game, the Syracuse game (twice), the Rhode Islands and the Marylands, if you are going to appreciate beating Stacey King and the Sooners.
Yes, March can be a brutal month. This year will be no different. Coppin State will be gunning for the Jayhawks. Oh, and you can bet the Selection Committee will do everything they can to get the Jayhawks and the Tarheels in the same region. Good. Frankly that battle is overdue.
But maybe -- just maybe -- this March Coach K will look down the court and see a freshman with all the talent in the world and wonder, "why is that kid with the headband looking so damn confident?"
Photos by Steve Puppe