NCAA Tournament 2001 - It takes all types to fill out the bracket


It takes all types to fill out the bracket

Shane Battier
Selection Sunday never gets old for Battier.
It Never Gets Old
Shane Battier never had to worry about making the NCAA Tournament. It was a given the moment he signed at Duke that he would play in the tournament. The only question the past four seasons has been seed the Blue Devils receive on Selection Sunday.

But that doesn't mean Battier takes the tournament for granted. Hardly. The player of the year and likely consensus national player of the year has been a tourney junkie since he was in elementary school outside of Detroit.

"I always used to fill out the bracket," Battier said. "I still do. It's a real exciting time. I love watching the tournament week and seeing the potential matchups, get to Selection Sunday and fill out your bracket."

Battier said Selection Sunday hasn't gotten old in four years, in fact it keeps on getting better. So, too, does waiting for the unknown as to whether or not Duke gets a No. 1 seed.

"It's a badge of honor to come out with a No. 1 seed. It's the best time of the year. The ACC is great but there's nothing like March in any sport."

The third season -- the first is non-conference, the second is the conference season -- provides new energy for Battier. Each day of the tournament, every practice and, yes, even each media session seems to be better than the past. Battier saviors the tournament because he knows there will be nothing like it for him in the NBA or whatever he chooses to pursue.

"It's the best time of the year by far," Battier said. "No matter how tired you may be for the season and the grind, you become so invigorated. The first round, the open practice before the first game, it all means so much. All your work leads you to this day, this tournament."

Casey Calvary
Calvary has enjoyed an improbable run as a Zag.
Mr. Cinderella
Casey Calvary doesn't want this run to end. He knows he's been fortunate, on a streak that simply doesn't happen to players at mid-major schools.

Calvary is about to play in his third straight tournament and eighth tournament game in three years. Gonzaga reached the Elite Eight when he was a sophomore, the Sweet 16 when he was a junior. Even though he believed the Bulldogs would be back this March, he knew it wasn't a guarantee. Nothing is at this level.

"It never gets old," Calvary said. "I love when they put us in some region where teams don't want to play us. Those are the fun ones."

Calvary's memories of the NCAA Tournament aren't really about the marquee programs. In fact, he thought more often about the programs like the one he's at, especially ones in the West Coast Conference.

"I watched the NCAA runs of the little schools like Loyola Marymount," Calvary said. "I always knew it was possible, but I didn't understand the scope and the importance of the media coverage. And I didn't know how much fun it would be to go on a run. It's the most awesome thing ever for me."

Gonzaga beat Minnesota, Stanford and Florida --- on Calvary's tip-in -- to get to the 1999 Elite Eight where they lost to eventual national champion Connecticut. The Bulldogs beat Louisville and St. John's before losing to Purdue in last year's Sweet 16.

"It may sound cliché but we always seem like we play harder when we have something to prove," Calvary said. "We've never sat back and slid into mediocrity. Our coaching staff would never allow us to do that."

The relationships that have been fostered during the NCAA Tournament are what Calvary remembers and will take with him when he leaves Gonzaga in the spring. This team has always been tight, but never as much as it is in the tournament.

"Winning games in the NCAA Tournament is the best feeling I've had in my life," Calvary said. "These tournament runs are things that we'll talk about 30 years from now at Jack & Dan's (bar and grill in Spokane) down the street."

Shernard Long
Long left Georgetown for Georgia State.
A Long, Strange Road
When Shernard Long left Georgetown, he knew he was saying good bye to big-time college basketball but hoped he wasn't finished with the NCAA Tournament.

Unlike any of his teammates, Long knows what he's in for this week. As a freshman at Georgetown he danced with the Hoyas. As a sophomore, he went to the NIT. As a junior, he left for tiny Georgia State, following Lefty Driesell.

"I wasn't sure I would ever get there again," Long said. "When I went, I was only a freshman and I didn't understand the significance."

Long wouldn't have missed anything if he had stayed. Georgetown hasn't been since Long left and, like Georgia State, is in this year. But getting back to the tournament hasn't been easy. Long had to spend, appropriately enough, long hours in the gym to lead his new school to the promised land.

"There's more of a personal feel to taking a team at Georgia State to the tournament," Long said. "I'm a senior and captain on this team and no one has been to the tournament beside me. I now know what it takes to get there and I felt like I had an obligation to do it."

Long started to profess how every win counts, especially later in the year. He knew all about the bubble and how could it easily pop for a team like Georgia State. Winning the Trans American Athletic Conference was a must for Georgia State, even with a decent RPI.

"Because this school has never been to the tournament, there's more pressure," Long said. "You're trying to do something that has never been done. I can't tell you how I feel. The NCAA Tournament is such a big feat. It took hard work, long hours in the gym and to stay focused on the matter at hand."

Long the leader of this crusade for the players can't wait to see the faces of his teammates when they walk into the arena for the open practice this week, let alone the opening tip.

"I wish everyone could experience this because it's not an every-day game," Long said. "This is something I've looked forward to since I left Georgetown and got to Georgia State. To be here and lead this school to this point is a dream come true."

Robert O'Kelley
O'Kelley's mom can finally pick her son's team to win it all.
What Took You So Long?
Robert O'Kelley never thought about missing the NCAA Tournament when he signed with Wake Forest. Tim Duncan was the most dominating center in the country, a consensus No. 1 draft pick when he signed. Why shouldn't O'Kelley believe Wake Forest would continue a run of appearances?

Well ... O'Kelley entered this, his senior year, with a no-show in the NCAAs and no guarantee of getting in this season.

"I appreciate getting in so much more now," O'Kelley said. "This is my last year and my last year to do some things. One of them was to make the NCAA Tournament. I have invested four years trying to."

O'Kelley was a highly-touted recruit out of Memphis, at the same time Tony Harris was coming out of the city. Harris chose Tennessee and has been in the tourney each of his first three years. Wake Forest has been a perennial bubble team and a regular in the NIT.

"I remember my freshman year when ESPN came to coach (Dave) Odom's house. We didn't get in and it was upsetting," O'Kelley said. "That's why it would be real special just to see our name up there, to see 'Wake Forest'. It will be extra special for me, more than people would think."

Not getting into the tournament has been such a sore spot for O'Kelley that he hasn't regularly watched the previous three tournaments. The only time he'll even glance at a game is if he knows someone playing. It burned him even more last summer when he saw Michigan State's Charlie Bell at the Nike All-American camp, sporting a Final Four ring.

"You see guys like that, that have been there, and you haven't and it's hard," O'Kelley said. "I thought I would come to Wake Forest and everything would be great. But it didn't turn out that way. Maybe I took the NCAA Tournament for granted."

O'Kelley got a scare when Wake Forest was in a mini-slump in February. But the Demon Deacons got a win they needed to close the season at N.C. State. Wake Forest, and now O'Kelley for the first time, can enjoy the hype.

"March Madness is a big deal around the world because everyone sees those brackets," O'Kelley said. "Before I went to college, my mom used to bring one home and we would fill it out and see who would win the national championship. She'll fill it out again."

Only this time her son will finally be playing in the field.

Troy Murphy
An all-American, Murphy is headed to his first tourney.
Where Have You Been?
Troy Murphy not in the NCAA Tournament. What? Doesn't make sense. Couldn't be. But it was a possibility if Notre Dame didn't get its act together this season.

Murphy, one of the top players in the nation, could have gone three years without playing in the NCAA Tournament. He's likely going to jump to the NBA after this season, but not making the field could have been the one thing that kept him in college.

"That would have been something that would have bothered me the rest of my life," Murphy said. "One reason I came back to school was the opportunity to play in the NCAA Tournament. I know I'll remember playing with these guys -- Dave (Graves) and Martin (Inglesby). To be there at the top after being at the bottom would mean so much more."

Murphy is a student of the game in every sense. He spent his March in New Jersey playing the NCAA Tournament -- on his Nerf hoop in his basement.

"It would be a dream come true," Murphy said. "I would fill out the brackets and to be in the tournament would be a dream come true."

Murphy said he's not surprised it took three years to get to the Dance. He was a realist when he chose Notre Dame. He knew the Irish were rebuilding. He's played one year under John MacLeod, one under Matt Doherty and this season under Mike Brey.

"We had tough times, things didn't go well and we lost to teams that weren't even Division I. It's been a long road and that's why it will be so much sweeter to be in."

But Murphy said the big boys at the schools that regularly get to dance don't cherish the actual bid as much as he will this March.

"It would be something just to be in there," Murphy said. "Guys who are in there every year take it for granted. They don't know what it means. It's a heck of an honor."

Murphy could be one of the top five draft picks, but he needs to be on the NCAA Tournament stage. Sure the scouts saw him during the season but there's something different about playing in the NCAA Tournament when the whole world is watching.

"We played in the NIT and no one cared about that," Murphy said. "You've got the NCAA bracket on the front page and we're on page three. Where else can you play at this time of the year?"

It has to be the NCAA Tournament for Murphy -- finally.

Andy Katz is a senior writer at

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