Why we go mad for March
I took a sideways look at the clock as my friend Charlie and I wound our way through the high country in West Virginia, heading south.
Maybe it was the seven NoDoz pills I’d slammed since we left my parent’s home in Southwest Michigan that March night to our see our college’s basketball team in its first bid for March Madness. Maybe it was the Mountain Dew. Maybe it was the creepy gas station attendant who looked like an extra out of the movie “Deliverance.” Regardless, I was wired.
My mind was spinning a mile a minute … thinking about how I got here, flying like a bat out of hell down some Appalachian highway to watch my Oakland University Golden Grizzlies get the living daylights beaten out of them by an absolutely stocked 2005 North Carolina Tar Heels squad in Charlotte, N.C.
What drives a 20-year-old to drive from metro Detroit, all the way across the state to pick up a car and halfway across the country to see a 16-seed in the NCAA men’s tournament get stomped out on another UNC quest for the title?
I blame it on Pierre Dukes.
Never heard of him? Probably never will.
I’ll get back to Pierre, though, because it goes back further than that.
For years I’ve associated a love for college basketball with March Madness and the players who make it special.
In 1999, my dad took me to Milwaukee to see my favorite team, Michigan State University, play Mississippi in the second round. The heroes of that team were all from Flint, Mich., players like Mateen Cleaves, Morris Peterson and Andre Hutson.
I was an eighth-grader at that time, and in reality those guys were only six or seven years my senior, but they might as well have been 10-year NBA veterans.
They were heroes to me and a select group of buddies as they carried the green and white to a heartbreaking Final Four loss to Duke. I was inconsolable after the defeat; I couldn’t understand how these Spartan warriors could lose to the hated Blue Devils.
The next year they won the title, sweet redemption for the loss in 1999, and I couldn’t wait to be a part of the celebration, a college student on the way to see my team play in the Big Dance.
Another magical squad was the 2003 Syracuse Orange led by freshman Carmelo ” AKA the smoothest player you’ve ever seen” Anthony. By the time the Orange had their title showdown with a loaded Kansas squad, I was whipped up into a full frenzy, ready to get out of my small town and get to college the next year.
By 2005, these March memories gave way to a reality, I was on the road to see Oakland play UNC.
We were there because just a week and a half earlier, Dukes, then a senior on another pathetic Grizzlies squad, hit a miracle shot at the buzzer to give Oakland the Mid-Continent Conference tournament championship against usually dominant Oral Roberts. I remember watching the game at home thinking, how in the world is this bunch of clowns, a 12-18 team, going to knock off Oral Roberts?
But the Grizzlies kept the game tight, and with about 2 seconds left Dukes, a relatively nondescript player, pulled up and drained a three-pointer to take Oakland from down two to up one point, 61-60, and gave them the Mid-Con title.
Within minutes my phone exploded, and within hours my dad called with a simple directive.
“Well, you can’t miss your own team in the tournament. You’re going.”
And like that, an unknown like Pierre Dukes became a legend, another March Madness memory.
” Kyle Magin is a reporter for the North Lake Tahoe Bonanza and a 2007 graduate of Oakland University in Rochester, Mich. You can contact him at email@example.com.