As Isaiah Miles stooped under the doorframe to the St. Joe’s locker room, he was greeted by an eruption of cheers from his teammates.
Just minutes earlier, the team had found out that the dunk by Cincinnati’s Octavious Ellis came a few hundredths of a second after the final buzzer sounded. That meant the Hawks had won their NCAA tournament first-round game, and that Miles’ three-point bucket with 7.3 seconds left was the game-winner. Inside the locker room, I sidestepped a pile of jerseys thrown off in celebration and found Hawks guard Shavar Newkirk, who was still jubilant from the win. “That’s the beauty of March Madness basically,” he beamed. Teammate Lamarr Kimble chimed in, “There’s nothing else like it!”
My experience covering March Madness began at about 5:00 AM on Friday, March 18, when I departed for the Veteran Memorial Arena in Spokane, Washington. I arrived about an hour before tip-off of the first game, and I received my press pass. Although the round one matchup between Hawaii and Cal would not start for another 45 minutes, fans had already begun filing in, many adorned in Cal’s classic gold and blue or shirts decorated with palm trees and surfboards. I watched the game from a press box tucked away high above the court, called “The Bird’s Nest” because of its position.
Once the games started, the atmosphere in the arena was electric. Bands were blasting music nonstop and student sections were howling out team chants, as well as singing songs and waving their arms to distract free throw shooters. Both the energy level rivaled that of any NFL playoff game. The players seemed to feed off of this energy, and they threw down alley-oops, and sniped shots from well past the three-point line.
Following the second game of the day, Maryland vs. South Dakota State, I went to the postgame press conference. It was interesting and eye-opening to hear about the game from the point of view of the players and coaches. Towards the end of the press conference, I gathered up the courage to ask a question to Maryland coach, Mark Turgeon.
One of my favorite parts of covering the tournament came later in the day, when I interviewed University of Oregon players in their locker room following their win over Holy Cross. I found it unlike anything else I had ever done before because I had never interviewed an athlete of that caliber before. Initially, the players seemed a little surprised to be interviewed by someone younger than themselves. Ducks forward Dwayne Benjamin told me what it’s like to play in the NCAA Tournament: “[Playing in March Madness] is amazing. I mean it’s something you always dream about and to actually be able to do it is kind of surreal, and also a lot of fun.”
For the fourth and final game of the day, I was able to cover the contest between the St. Joseph’s Eagles and the Cincinnati Bearcats from the media area alongside the court. Sitting courtside, I was surprised to discover the level of physicality in the players. Especially towards the end of the game, athletes on both teams used aggression when going for rebounds or a loose ball, and often pushed or shoved their opponents to get any advantage in a close game.
Overall, covering March Madness as a Kid Reporter proved to be an exhilarating experience that I won’t ever forget. Through my day of watching and covering NCAA Tournament Games, which added up to a total of 12 hours in Spokane’s Veteran Memorial Arena, I was able to learn valuable lessons of sports journalism, and I saw first hand the energy, close games, and upsets that this tournament has been known to deliver year after year. After reporting on March Madness for a day, I can truly see why some believe that there is nothing else like it.
Photos: Jack Kelley