March is a ticking clock, bringing the end to NCAA Tournament games, and careers. No wonder it’s the seniors who hear it the clearest.
“It’s no longer a want to win. It’s a need to win, to extend your life as a player,” Brad Stevens was saying. He coaches the Boston Celtics now, but he made his name at Butler, and he remembers.
Time for a senior tour.
March is about urgency.
We are in the Duke locker room, and Grayson Allen is discussing his imminent end of the road as a Blue Devil.
“It’s definitely real. But what makes it more real in a senior is because I’ve felt it. I’ve felt two early exits from the tournament, so I know what that feeling is. I know what that feeling is to lose and your season to be over right there. For these freshmen, they don’t know what it’s like. It’s a feeling I don’t want to have again. Knowing that going in just kind of adds that extra want, that extra desire, that extra drive. Then on top of that, knowing that this really is it. There’s no more leaving or going to staying, I’m gone after this. I’d be really mad at myself if I didn’t leave it all out there.”
“One hundred percent complete urgency. I’m going to be on everybody, I’m going to be on the freshman like it’s their last time playing. I’m just trying to make the most of it.”
March is about final opportunity.
We are in the Purdue locker room, where four senior starters have formed the core of the Boilermakers’ big season, including P.J. Thompson and Vincent Edwards.
Thompson: “Everyone knows it’s our last ride. But more importantly, this is the best team I’ve been on since I’ve been at Purdue. We know we get judged in the postseason, so we want to make a run. We’re playing for our seniors, and our young guys know that. But more importantly, we’re playing for Purdue.”
Edwards: “We’re all on the bench out there saying to one another, 'Are you excited? Are you excited?’ We’re all excited just to play and I think that’s what makes it good, when you’ve got a group of guys you came in with, and you’re going to leave with.”
March is about the sense of the end.
We are in a hallway at Miami, in Oxford, Ohio. Logan McLane has just come off the bench to have a big Monday night for the RedHawks against Ohio, keeping them alive in the MAC Tournament, and hopefully, an NCAA bid.
“It hit me this past Friday at Senior Night, this is going to be my last home game. I thought about that all weekend. I couldn’t sleep. I didn’t want my college basketball career to end tonight. You don’t want this opportunity to end. This is your dream as a high school kid, to play college basketball, and it’s crazy just how fast it flies by.”
March is about doing what must be done to survive.
“I’m a senior, never been in March Madness. This is what I live for. I’ve been from junior college to Houston, just working my tail off with my teammates, from summer conditioning to doing war drills in practice, and I just didn’t want to let my team down.”
March is about appreciating what just happened, now that it’s over.
We are a Pittsburgh, and Rhode Island has just been eliminated by Duke. As they exit the court for the last time, Rams senior E.C. Matthews and coach Dan Hurley leave arm-in-arm.
"We're all family. Some programs, they talk about family. They put their hands in and they say 'family on three' and it's fake. But not with us." - @dhurley15 #family #thankyouseniors https://t.co/IGf1aA1nnZ— Rhody MBB (@RhodyMBB) March 19, 2018
Matthews: “I know we’re not the same color, but he’s definitely my father. Just trying to walk off the court the right way. Things didn’t go our way, but just what we’ve done. When we both came here, him coaching me as a player, we picked this program off the ground. We was fine for about five years. We landed, and we just wanted to off the court the right way. You know, I love this guy.”
From Boise, Buffalo’s Wes Clark after the Bulls upset Arizona, then went down against Kentucky.
“I know we had a loss right now, but it’s definitely been a win for me. I’ve never been to an NCAA Tournament, and to get here and win a game, it’s phenomenal. I’m glad to wear a Buffalo jersey.”
From Wichita, Seton Hall’s Angel Delgado after his massive effort – 24 points and 23 rebounds – could not keep the Pirates alive against Kansas.
“These four years are probably the best four years of my life, and I’m really proud of this. This is the best decision I ever made in my life, to come to Seton Hall and be part of this. These four years that we’ve been here, we won, we lost, hard times, good times . . . everybody faced the bad times, too, and we’re facing it right now. But everything’s good.”
“I don’t think it’s hit me fully yet. As soon as the buzzer sounded, I felt it a little bit, but so far I don’t think it’s hit me fully yet that my college career is over.”
From Charlotte, UMBC’s 5-8 K.J. Maura, after the remarkable ride ended against Kansas State:
“I think we’re giving hope even to guys that are not tall, like me. So people that feel like they are underdogs in their life, I think we have given the hope to everything they want to do in life.”
From Charlotte, sitting at a podium, North Carolina’s Theo Pinson, who savored the highs of a national championship, and the lows of the whipping by Texas A&M Sunday:
“I didn’t take any of this for granted. I came in every day with a smile on my face, wanted everybody to have a smile on their face . . . I know we don’t have that right now, but that’s because the three up here are competitors. Everybody knows me, I’m always smiling. This is tough, but it’s life.”
And in the end, March is about parting.
March Madness 2018 live stream, TV schedule: Watch every game
Take the coach who after the game led his players over to bow and wave to their crowd that was giving them a standing ovation.
The Radford Highlanders. Who had just lost by 26 points to Villanova.
“Man, I’ve had fun,” coach Mike Jones said of the experience, never mind the scoreboard. So had his players, especially his seniors, and he wanted everyone to know it.
“I just grabbed the coach and started crying as soon as they started going crazy,” said Randy Phillips, one of those seniors.
It was so powerful a moment, even the vanquishers noticed.
Villanova’s Jay Wright: “Every chance like that, that we see a team just so appreciative to be here, playing their hearts out to the last second, playing every possession, it’s just a great example to our guys to relish every opportunity they get.”
From coast to coast, the seniors understand. This is the month they say goodbye, sometimes in tears, but never for long. It’s March, and they’ve lived it.