Iowa State guard Naz Long put up a three-point jumper with three seconds left on the clock. For the second it was in the air, not only did UAB’s hard-fought game and season hang in the balance, but the outlook of a program. The shot missed the mark and was tipped in by Monte Morris with three seconds left to go, and UAB had beaten ISU 60-59. The Blazers were the first of two No. 14 seeds to defeat a No. 3 Big 12 team, both representing what’s so special about March: the underdogs are on an even keel with everyone else.
There have been more impressive games and bigger upsets before, but not many can top the importance of the UAB victory. Some astute viewers may had noticed the Blazers were wearing two different shoes, green on one side and white on the other side. The team wore their asymmetric gear to promote awareness and money for pediatric cancer.
Pediatric cancer is a cause close to the Blazers’ collective heart.
Two years ago, during [head coach Jerod] Haase’s first season at the helm, the Blazers adopted a young cancer patient named Elijah Seritt. Seritt and his family have been a source of encouragement to the team since.
Just 19 months old when he was first taken to the emergency room, Seritt has has undergone 17 surgeries, including two brain surgeries as well as chemotherapy and two stem-cell transplants since being diagnosed with medulloblastoma — a particularly aggressive form of cancer.
Now that the Blazers capped off a huge upset over the Big 12 tournament champions, they certainly brought attention to their cause and Elijah has to be jumping for joy seeing his friends dancing. He’s not alone in his excitement. Of course the team, the fans, and college basketball enthusiasts are giddy for the upset, but it also means a great deal to the university’s standing as an athletic program as well.
I wrote on how Northern Iowa rose to prominence after one important win in the tournament, and the same can be said for dozens of other programs. March is where dreams come true, and the dreams of UAB becoming a revered program have awakened after their football program closed its doors just four months ago.
For small programs, it’s especially important to make a statement wherever they can. A win in basketball could translate into recruiting a football player (or even coaches) looking to make headlines of his own, and vice versa. Look around the nation, you see intersections all around of teams excelling in multiple sports. Of the field of 68 teams this season, 30 of the programs also made a college football bowl game.
Though it may not directly pull recruits into the program, winning in one sport can at least create a brand. It may not help immediately,but it can at least build interest in younger prospects looking toward the future. One hand feeds the other — we’ve seen how athletic programs like Baylor have grown together and rose to the top. It’s not always about the strength of your team that draws in a player, otherwise you’d always see the top prospect go to the best team. Players go where they think they can succeed the most, and if a small program offers a player the opportunity to be the star of a rising school, the more likely they are to come on board (not to mention students in general, as athletics offer extreme pull.)
Now the Blazers can’t witness what benefits could be in store for their entire program after this win over a renowned program (and what any other win that may follow.) It’s bittersweet to see this happen: to see a school that broke so many hearts just last year now bring on national attention. Just one season may have been all that was needed to turn things around. Football team or not, this is an important moment for the fans and school. Maybe they’ll revive football eventually, but for now, they’re looking to keep dancing with Elijah into the Sweet Sixteen, overcoming the odds just like their young friend — and that’s what March is all about.