Many people play basketball their whole life without ever playing in a championship game on any level. But for most players in the NCAA championship game, this won’t be their first such experience.
Before they play for the 2014 national championship, Kid Reporter Jake Aron asked UConn and Kentucky players to share memories of their last championship appearance.
UConn junior guard Pat Lenehan: I think when I was in eighth grade, actually, we played for the state championship. So it was seven years ago. We lost. I was playing kids I’d played my whole life. Usually, we beat them. And then it came to that game and we lost by about 10, so we didn’t get to go to the regional tournament, which was a little disappointing.
Kentucky freshman forward Derek Willis: My junior year in high school, we played in a regional championship game. The point guard on my team was coming down the right side of the court and he let it go inside halfcourt and he made it. We ended up going to state off that. It was amazing.
UConn walk-on Nnamdi Amilo: High school, sophomore year. So it’s been quite a while. And it was noooo-where close to as big as this one. We ended up losing that one, so hopefully history doesn’t repeat itself. Back then, I was actually one of the big players on my team. Here, I’m a walk-on.
Kentucky freshman EJ Floreal: Last year in high school, I played for a district championship. We fought hard and we won the game. Our fans in the student section rushed the court. I guess it’s similar to this, except for rushing the court. It was a lot of fun. But that was nothing compared to this.
UConn freshman guard Terrence Samuel: Probably last year some time, in high school tournaments. I got the MVP, like 24 (points) and 7 (rebounds) or something. It didn’t really matter. It was like a club tournament. I was never able to make it to the state championship with my high school team.
Kentucky freshman guard Dominique Hawkins: In high school, for state. It came down to a last-second shot at the end. My teammate took a difficult shot just like Aaron (Harrison). He made it and we won.
UConn sophomore forward Leon Tolksdorf: Back home in Germany, two-and-a-half years ago. We played for the German championship. We lost in the final game. That was tough. That was my senior year, the year before I got here. Hopefully we’re going to win tomorrow.
Kentucky junior guard Tod Lanter: I’ve never played in a championship game before, so this is a new experience for me.
UConn freshman forward Kentan Facey: Last year, senior year of high school in Long Island. I was competing in upstate New York for a championship. It was the Class AA regional championship game. We lost that game. But it was definitely a great experience playing in the AA division for the first time.
Kentucky freshman Alex Poythress: In high school, I played for district championship, regional championship, state championship. I know what it feels like to be in the last game of the season, to know what’s at stake and what you’re playing for. You’re so excited. You’ve got butterflies. You’re anxious and ready to get out there. Sure, you’ll be nervous at first, but once you get out there and get in the flow of the game, you just start playing.
2014 Final Four: Championship Memories