When the buzzer sounded in Atlanta, and Louisville emerged as the NCAA champion, I was humbled by my own role in it all. After all, I’m not a hero. I’m just a man writing a column about the most improved players in the NBA.
But once again, I became the center of the basketball universe. I didn’t do any interviews because I wanted this moment to be about the players and the coaches, not me. Still, I’d be lying if I told you I wasn’t looking forward to when Rick Pitino calls and asks me for my ring size.
You see, the national championship game was all about improvement. Luke Hancock – once a George Mason Patriot – came off the bench to score 22 points and earn recognition as the Most Outstanding Player in the Final Four. Walk-on Tim Henderson spelled Peyton Siva and Russ Smith in the absence of Kevin Ware and hit two gigantic 3-pointers in the second half of the national semifinal against Wichita State.
Even Michigan relied heavily on its most improved players. Spike Albrecht? Really?! That kid was stopped by security guards on his way into the arena because they didn’t believe he was actually on the team. Then he went out and out-improved everyone on the floor, putting up 17 first-half points and stunning Louisville with his downright refusal to miss a shot.
The Wolverines reached the NCAA final in large part because of Albrecht and big man Mitch McGary, whose improvement over the course of the NCAA Tournament was stunning. McGary went from bench player who averaged just 6.2 points and 5.5 rebounds to big-time player and starter, averaging 17 points and 11 boards in the tournament. He helped Michigan go from fifth in the Big Ten to national runner-up.
Like I said, championships are all about improvement. Five guys out-improving five others on the floor; practicing all season in the hope that they might improve enough to be the best in the nation at season’s end.
And after 15 weeks of writing this column – 15 weeks of living, breathing, and eating improvement for breakfast – no one knows it better than me. I’m like the Mr. Miyagi of improvement.
So yes, Mr. Pitino, I’ll gladly accept that championship ring. Or at least a T-shirt. Maybe a hat? A Final Four coaster? Can I still buy a game program?
On to the rankings.