Editor's note: Spider Stories is a sports series that is designed as a platform to give student-athletes a voice through the sharing of first-person stories.
The 2006 NCAA tournament was the first tournament I can genuinely remember. I vividly remember it being the first time I ever cried over a sporting event, but I also remember that this was the year I fell in love with March.
If you were around my age and grew up a Duke University basketball fan, then JJ Redick in a Blue Devil uniform was the closest thing to Jesus Christ himself. And the 2005-06 season was his personal stroll across the Sea of Galilee.
Redick averaged nearly 27 points a game and won every award imaginable. The team cruised through the Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season and tournament titles. It seemed as though this would be the year Redick would finally get the ring he deserved.
Duke’s run had that sense of inevitability that tends to follow all of the great teams, the ‘‘there is no way this doesn’t lead to a national championship” feel. Duke rolled through the first two games and played against Louisiana State University in the Sweet 16.
Well, the game went the worst possible way. Duke lost 62 to 54, and Redick missed 15 of his 18 shots.
I could not believe that Redick’s career would end like this, that his final game would go so poorly. I felt like the world was ending. I remember thinking, “I hate March,” as I cried myself to sleep that night.
What eight-year-old me was realizing at the time, 22-year-old me finally understands now.
March is a beautiful, agonizing, stress-inducing, heart-pounding rollercoaster ride of a month. Fair or unfair, for teams with a true shot in March, their seasons are typically defined by a couple of possessions or one or two games. When you are watching it on TV, you can feel the intensity, but there is nothing quite like being on the floor for the games.
My first taste of the excitement of March was my freshman year, the 2016-2017 season. Our team was really good that year, but we didn’t get off to the start we needed in non-conference before really picking it up in the Atlantic 10 conference play, where we finished 13-5. TJ Cline, a senior on the team, won player of the year in the conference, and ShawnDre’ Jones, another senior, finished All-A-10 Third Team. We knew we had to win the conference tournament to make it to the NCAA tournament, and after finishing third in the league when we started the season 6-6, we felt like we had a decent chance of winning.
Our first game of the 2017 A-10 tournament was against George Washington University in the quarterfinals.
The game was back and forth the whole time. Khwan Fore, our sophomore guard at the time, stole a pass and scored a layup as time expired, winning the game for us. We rushed the court and I can remember how happy I was. It felt amazing to be a part of a game like that.
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The semifinal game was against Virginia Commonwealth University. Admittedly, they were better than us that year. We knew it, they knew it and everyone watching at PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh knew it.
But, the great thing about March is that often the best teams don’t win.
The first half did not go as planned, and we were down 31 to 36 heading into the locker room. The only thing keeping us close was De’Monte Buckingham, the conference’s rookie of the year, who scored 15 of his 26 points in the first half.
We closed the gap, and I started to make a couple shots, scoring 10 points leading up until the final minute of the second half, where the score was tied 68-68. We ran a play to get Buckingham the ball on the left block, which had been working all game, and let him make the play.
Once he got the ball, I reached my arm out to let him know I was open on the other end of the court. After a couple of seconds, he threw a pass to me and I let it fly.
Boom. It was money. 71-68 with 35 seconds left. I had my March Moment. The dagger three to send us to the championship game and defeat our heated rival. I just knew we had won the game.
Unfortunately, things don’t always work out the way you want in March. VCU got a 3-pointer to tie the game on their next trip down, and we went to overtime. We threw our best punches, knocked them down and they got back up. In overtime, we had nothing left and went home with an excruciating 10-point defeat. The “I hate March” feelings were back. When you’re a kid, you never dream of yourself being on the losing end of a classic moment.
March is unforgiving. No tournament, no moment, nothing. Just a quiet plane ride back to campus.
The next two years, March was somewhat meaningless. My sophomore year, we started the season 2-10 out of conference and somehow scrambled to a 9-9 finish in conference play, landing in seventh place. We won our opening game against Duquesne University, but lost a heartbreaking game in the quarterfinals to St. Bonaventure University, where we were down 21 points in the second half and battled back to tie it.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t make anything in the quarterfinals. Conference play was sort of a breakout for me, as I averaged almost 18 points a game during that part of the season, which led the team. All of that was nice, but in the game where my team needed me most, I went 1 for 10 and missed two game-tying shots in the final minute. To this day, I have not watched one minute of that game.
I remember thinking about how Redick could never quite make enough shots and have that big-time game when everything was on the line and how that now it was my turn to come up short. It was probably the lowest point of my basketball career. The next season, I tore my ACL in the sixth game of the year, and I watched my team limp to a 13-20 year.
Heading into the 2019-2020 season, expectations were low, but I knew in the summer that we were going to be special.
We had new players, a new focus and everything just seemed like it was going to be great. As you may know, we finished 24-7 overall and 14-4 in the conference. As we got into February, I couldn’t help but look up past NCAA tournament games and that feeling of inevitability was back. I just KNEW we were going to the NCAA tournament. My re-watching of past tournaments brought me back to eight-year-old me, but this time it wasn’t so bad.
Well, we all know what happened next. While we were in Brooklyn preparing for our conference tournament, the coronavirus shut everything down. Both the A-10 and NCAA tournaments were canceled and just like that, our season ended. No frantic finishes, no classic games, no trophies. Just “what-ifs” and a quiet plane ride back to campus.
March is a crazy time for college basketball fans. The eyes of the world are on your sport, and it’s truly a beautiful time of year. It can also be ugly. Everything you worked for and everything you accomplished is reduced to a couple of games and a couple of moments.
I don’t know what would’ve happened had we played the conference tournament although I had that feeling of inevitability surrounding our chances this year. I just knew we were going to have a memorable March, a March that an eight-year-old kid in Richmond would watch and say to himself, “This is gonna be me one day.”
I’m learning that March isn’t so inevitable, it’s just truly unpredictable. None of us know what’s ahead, as these are uncertain times.
I hope I’ll get that March Moment, but maybe I won’t. March is unforgiving that way. I’m at peace with everything though, because although the ending was so sudden, the ride was so memorable and this year was special, March or not.
Contact contributor Nick Sherod at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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