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Basketball magic

Walker Carey | Tuesday, February 21, 2012

For most of my first 12 years on Earth, I was a fairly casual college basketball fan. I had my two favorite teams ­— Notre Dame and Kansas — but besides that I did not have too substantial of an interest. That all changed in March of 2002 when my father acquired tickets to four first-round NCAA Tournament games at the United Center in Chicago.

I strongly hoped that either Notre Dame or Kansas would be playing in one of these games, yet when the brackets were released neither of my favorite teams was scheduled to play a first round game in Chicago. I was significantly bummed by this fact, but I thought these games would serve as a good opportunity to acquaint myself with other teams. Little did I know that the first game of the day would forever sell me on the greatness of college basketball.

The first game of the day was a No. 5-seed vs. No. 12-seed matchup between Billy Donovan’s Florida Gators and Dana Altman’s Creighton Blue Jays. Going into the game, all I really knew about either team was that Florida had played for the national title two years prior.

For the first half of the game, it seemed as if Florida was the superior team. Players such as guard Brett Nelson, forward Matt Bonner, forward Udonis Haslem and center David Lee controlled the tempo of the game and it seemed as if the Gators definitely had the guns to pull away in the second half. Creighton, however, had other plans, as junior forward Kyle Korver and junior guard Terrell Taylor led a feverish comeback to make it a hotly contested matchup.

With the Gators leading 82-80 with just under five seconds on the clock, Creighton put the ball in Taylor’s hands. Taylor launched his eighth three-pointer of the game over Brett Nelson and as it cleanly went through the net, the United Center exploded. I can still visualize the scene as the Blue Jays bench launched into hysterics, mobbing Taylor and wildly celebrating the sizable upset.

Once the players cleared the court, I found myself salivating at the fact that there were still three more games I would get to watch — one of which was a matchup between Robert Montgomery Knight’s first Texas Tech squad and a Bruce Weber-coached Southern Illinois team and another of which included a Georgia team coached by Jim Harrick, who would see his coaching career end just one year later amid an academic fraud scandal. This sensation has stayed with me ever since and I give all the credit to the magic college basketball emitted on that Friday in March of 2002.

Sometimes I think about how different my life would be if I had not attended those four games that Friday in March. I can honestly say that I do not believe I would be enjoying my life as much if I never fell in love with college basketball. It is just comforting to know that no matter what I am going through in life, college hoops action will always be there for me almost every night between mid-November through the first week in April every year — and that is a wondrous thing.

Contact Walker Carey at wcarey@nd.edu

The views expressed in the Inside Column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.