Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Maddening March, part 2

I first got hooked on college basketball in 1979.

I had been playing and watching hoops since I was 6 in early 1977, but for the most part, I watched the NBA. The Bulls around that time were good, and my dad preferred the NBA then, so I naturally started liking the NBA too. I even got to go to the Bulls' practice facility one preseason and get autographs; I'll never forget how tall 7-foot-2 Artis Gilmore was to the 4-foot-1 Joey G.

But in 1979, my loyalties changed. DePaul had one of the best teams in the country, and my father took me to my first college basketball game.

DePaul used to play in their on-campus gym instead of an arena out in the suburbs, and my dad got is in for a game against Lamar. By "got us in," looking back, I don't think we had tickets. We got there a little late, somehow got in, and sat on the stairs on the edge of the bleachers rather than in the bleachers. The atmosphere was amazing, especially in such a small gym. DePaul won and headed into March as one of the best teams in the country.

And in March, I watched them make it all the way until the Final Four, which included Michigan State with Magic Johnson and Indiana State with Larry Bird. Yes, the 1979 was the NCAA Tournament became an event. I watched that whole Final Four. I watched Indiana State edge DePaul in the semifinal. I watched Michigan State easily beat Penn. I watched DePaul win the third-place game (this was when a third-place game was still held). I watched Magic beat Bird in the championship game.

That's all it took. Though I liked the NBA as much as the college game during the Jordan years, I emerged from the 1979 Final Four as a big college basketball fan. I was feeling the Madness.

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