Boarding the Wagon

It’s quite possible you have no idea about the NCAA basketball tournament which kicked off this week. That’s fine. What you should know, then, is that as part of the national hysteria around the tournament, people like to compete in office pools where they take tournament brackets, fill in their predictions for the games, and compete to see who can pick the champion.

As you read this on Friday morning, there’s a chance the headline sports news (and maybe even the lead national news) story will be about an upset or two on day one of the tournament.  Bracket Busters they’re called because the first round upsets usually involve a David knocking off a Goliath and ruins many brackets on day one. Such was the ultimate example last year when number 16 seed Maryland-Baltimore County upset number one seed, Virginia.  Bam. Bracket Busted.

About twenty years ago, I won the office pool. Two funny things about that victory: 1) I took less than five minutes to fill out my bracket, not picking Duke to win, and 2) the owners of my company at the time were Duke grads and way more into basketball than I was. They, of course, had Duke picked to win, but that year it was not to be.

But what about this year?

I barely keep up with basketball anymore and rarely watch it on television. However, this year, it’s been hard to avoid hearing about Duke’s freshman phenom, Zion Williamson, especially since he is from South Carolina and I live in South Carolina.  A few months back,  I saw the dunk highlights after his first game, and I thought Ok. Not bad.


Zion Practicing in Columbia, SC. Photo credit: Genie Fogle

Zion Practicing in Columbia, SC. Photo credit: Genie Fogle

Over the course of this season, Zion seemed to be everywhere. I’d read a new headline or see a spectacular dunk or hear a non-Duke fan complain on Facebook about his hype. Then his shoe blowout a few weeks ago was the biggest news story of the day. As a result of the failed shoe, Zion injured his knee and I thought so much for Duke’s chances in the tournament.

Last week,  Zion returned healthy and ready to play against North Carolina in the semi-finals of the ACC basketball tournament.  I’m assuming with some seriously quality-checked shoes. A previous UNC-Duke game was the shoe blowout game, where Duke lost after Zion’s knee injury 30 seconds into the game. Well, Live PD was a repeat so I decided to watch the game – first half anyway. Unfortunately, the game started late, and even on a Friday night, I don’t (or can’t) stay up late.

Against UNC, Zion put on a show, scoring 31 points, leading Duke to a 74-73 victory. After watching the scoring highlights the next morning, I was impressed and thinking OK, this kid is pretty good, but I’m not ready to jump on that greatest ever bandwagon yet. With my interest peaked, I now felt like I should watch Duke play the championship game that night against Florida State.  Back-to-back days watching basketball for me. Not sure when that happened last.

The first half against FSU ended in a tie at 36-36, and I expected a tight game until the end. Duke started slowly in the second half and fell behind 36-39. Then Zion took over. He made a couple of spectacular shots to pull the Blue Devils ahead as if he was saying “Don’t worry boys, Zion’s here.”

Then with about 16:35 left, and Duke up 44-39, It happened. The play that lifted me up and firmly onto the “he’s probably the best ever bandwagon.”.  Zion rebounded a missed Florida State shot, turned and started to dribble. I sure everyone expected him to drive most of the way down the court, but after a few dribbles, Zion rifled a pass half the court to the top of the key on the other end, hitting his teammate in stride, who then laid the ball into the basket.  Not only was it a pass, but it was a bounce pass, threaded perfectly between two Florida State defenders. Perhaps the best pass I’ve ever seen.

Any wind in the Florida State sails disappeared, as Duke took over from that point and won by 10, which was not really as close as it sounds. Zion finished with 21 points and was the tournament MVP.

Don’t just take my word on this pass. Here are ESPN’s top 10 highlights from championship weekend. Go to the 3:23 mark to see #1:

I didn’t participate in a pool this year or complete a bracket, but I won’t be surprised if this number 1 ends up number 1.

Photo credit:

Photo credit:

Thanks for reading.


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