This is a great time of the year for basketball fans and we’re not even talking about what has become known as March Madness, the men’s NCAA tournament that will hold a hypnotic spell over America for the next several weeks. People will fill in their NCAA pools and schedule their day around the televised appearances of their favorite teams and talk about the latest upset, and basically just have fun.
But this is also a special time for high school basketball players and their families and friends, even though they won’t appear on national television or in front of 30,000 fans. In a small state like Delaware, that’s especially true for the boys and girls who make it as far as the quarter-finals of the DAIA Basketball Tournament. Those games are played at the Bob Carpenter Center at the University of Delaware, and for most of those lucky players, this will be the biggest and best showcase in which they’ll ever play. It will be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to compete under the bright lights in the best arena in the state and the best they’ll ever play in.
This year’s playoffs have been even more fun because of all the new faces that made it to the Bob for the quarterfinals. Sure, there are the usual suspects, like the Sanford boys team and the Ursuline girls team. But there are also teams that made it that far that aren’t here very often, like the boys teams from St. Thomas More and the girls team from Conrad
That’s also the beauty of the NCAA Tournament – any team, no matter how small or overlooked, has a chance to win. And those Cinderella stories, like the ones written in recent years by teams like George Mason and Bradley, are a million times more fun than reading about another Kentucky or Duke championship. It’s no different in high school.
Another thing shared by those college and high school players from small schools – this will probably be the highlight of their basketball careers. A few of those high school athletes will go on to play for major college programs and some will play at small colleges, but most of the kids who have played at the Bob in the last two weeks will hang up their sneakers afterward, at least at a top competitive level. Some will play intramurals in college and some will play in recreational leagues after college, but this is their last chance to play the game they love, and they get to do it in the best gym they’ve ever played in and in front of the largest crowds of their lives.
That’s why it was such a great decision several years ago to move the quarterfinals from the home gym of the highest-seeded team to the Bob, as well as the semifinals and championship game, which were already there. It gives more kids a chance to play on the same floor that Elena Delle Donne did. Win or lose, this will be an experience that none of these players will ever forget, and that is what this tournament should be about – making new friends and creating memories that will last a lifetime.
All of those young women and men who got a chance to play at the Bob the last couple of weeks won’t always be young. And as they get older, these memories will get even better. Someday, they’ll talk about this to their grandchildren. They’ll tell them what a thrill it was and, of course, this generation will have plenty of pictures to show the next generation why March is the best month on the sports calendar.