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College Basketball Greats Share Their Favorite March Madness Memories


Everyone has their own treasured March Madness memories — even the memory-makers themselves. Athlon Sports persuaded many of today’s great players and coaches to share their favorite NCAA Tournament memories, even as they anticipate creating their own Shining Moments in this year’s tournament. 

Bill Self, Kansas coach:
“Probably the same as a lot of people. Watching the (1979) Final Four with my dad in the living room when (Larry) Bird played Magic (Johnson). To me, that game got me so fired up — watching those two guys go at it. I thought it was so cool. I love Magic. But for me, Larry Bird was my hero. It was amazing how he put that team on his back.”

Tom Izzo, Michigan State coach:

“Michigan State against Indiana State with Magic vs. Bird. I loved Magic, and it was my first year as an assistant coach at Northern Michigan. My head coach brought me to the Final Four that year. It’s so ironic that it wound up being the team I coach. We were sitting about four rows up in the corner. What a thrill that was as a 23-year-old. It was a huge deal and changed the game. Magic vs. Larry. I’ll never forget that. To me, that was the start of me dreaming of where I wanted to end up — and I’ve gotten to live out my dream.”

Shaka Smart, VCU coach:

“Steve Fisher’s 1989 Michigan team. It seemed like Glen Rice didn’t miss a shot for three weeks. I was at home, 12 years old. I was so nervous when Rumeal Robinson went to the foul line. I was from Wisconsin, but the Badgers weren’t very good at the time — and I thought Glen Rice was the second coming.”

Russ Smith, Louisville guard:
“My favorite was watching Stephen Curry’s run through the NCAA Tournament (2008). I never really followed college basketball until I went to prep school and colleges started recruiting me, but I followed Curry. He never missed, and all his teammates knew that in order to win, he had to get the ball. Every time he made a play, it was probably the best play. I remember him going off against Gonzaga, then Georgetown — and then Davidson almost beat Kansas to go to the Final Four. He was just so much fun to watch.”

Buzz Williams, Marquette coach:

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“Probably that Syracuse team with Sherman Douglas and Derrick Coleman in 1987. I didn’t have cable TV growing up. I remember that team and Douglas throwing lobs to Coleman and Stevie Thompson. For whatever reason, I loved that team. They beat Florida and North Carolina and got to the championship game and lost on that buzzer-beater to Keith Smart and Indiana. I’ll never forget that.”

Chris Mack, Xavier coach:

“Dereck Whittenburg’s airball to Lorenzo Charles to win the national title in 1983. I remember I was in the basement of my parent’s house and got caught up in the underdog fever of NC State. The little engine that could. I went bonkers when the dunk went down. I was 13 years old, but that was my favorite memory growing up of the tourney.”

Doug McDermott, Creighton forward:
“I’d have to say when (Florida’s) Mike Miller hit that shot to beat Butler at the buzzer (2000). I was watching it down in the basement in Cedar Falls (Iowa) with my brother. I was a huge Florida fan growing up. I’m not sure why, and I loved Mike Miller. My dad wound up getting me a Mike Miller jersey afterwards.

Noah Vonleh, Indiana forward:
“When Mario Chalmers hit the three to send the game into overtime against Derrick Rose and Memphis in the national championship game (2008). I was shocked and I couldn’t believe it. I thought Memphis had the game locked up, being up the entire game by a good amount. I knew Kansas was going to win in overtime."

Sam Dekker, Wisconsin forward:
“The Maryland team with Juan Dixon and Steve Blake stuck out to me. They won it all back in 2002, and that’s one of my first memories of college basketball. But the game that I remember more than anything else was an Elite Eight game between North Carolina and Wisconsin in 2005. I was a diehard Carolina fan, and was cheering for both teams. My brother had open-heart surgery and knew former Carolina player Joe Wolf. He sent him a card to get better after his surgery. I was literally rooting for both teams. I loved Rashad McCants, Raymond Felton and Sean May. I was watching that game down in Gulf Shores, Alabama — where my family went on spring break that year. I even remember the shoes Carolina was wearing.”

Sean Miller, Arizona coach:
“Michael Jordan’s game-winning shot against Georgetown in the Superdome (1982). I was watching it with my dad in Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania, and couldn’t believe it. I’ll always remember that play, and that game. I was thinking, ‘Man, I hope I can be good enough to go to Carolina.’”

Nick Johnson, Arizona guard:

Spencer Dinwiddie, Colorado guard:

“My favorite NCAA Tournament feeling was watching Selection Sunday and seeing our name called — and obviously going to the Sweet 16 last year. But overall, it’s just watching ‘One Shining Moment’ at the end of the Tournament.” 

Georges Niang, Iowa State forward:

“When T.J. Sorrentine of Vermont hit the buzzer-beater against Syracuse (2005). My friend and I were camped out in his basement for the first two rounds. Sometimes we would even fake being sick to come home and catch the noon-time games. I loved it, and that Sorrentine shot was the one that will always stick out for me.”

“I was a USC fan growing up because my mom went there, so when they beat Kevin Durant (and Texas) in the Tournament that was cool to me because I looked up to Nick Young. He was my favorite college player and he had 22 in that game and they blew out KD and Texas.”

Nik Stauskas, Michigan guard:

“I was more of an NBA guy growing up because we didn’t have ESPN in Canada. We had TSN. I didn’t really start watching college basketball until four or five years ago. The game that sticks out to me is the national title game between Kansas and Memphis where Mario Chalmers hit that three to force it to overtime. That was crazy. I was with my dad at home in Toronto. I didn’t know much about it then, but after that I really started watching.”