Believe it or not, my full attention has not gone to March Madness this year.
I have tried to catch all or some of the NCAA Tournament games featuring Southeastern Conference teams.
And thank goodness, I settled in on the couch for Sunday night’s game on the women’s side – Mississippi State versus Baylor.
It was my favorite moment of March Madness thus far when coach Vic Schaefer was hugging a crying Morgan William after the game as the two were being interviewed by ESPN. It was one of those special moments indeed between a coach and player. But in this case, it was also obvious that Schaefer is much more than a coach to William.
In the interview, William said she wanted to dedicate the win in the Elite Eight to her father who had died three years ago.
Coach Schaefer, whose daughter Blair is a member of the team, said he basically has two daughters on the team – the other being William.
He went on to say how much he loved all his players and they are all “his” but these two, his own and another who has leaned on him for guidance both on the court and off, are extremely special.
The 5-foot-5 William, the team’s point guard, was spectacular in the 94-85 overtime win over Baylor. She had the game of a lifetime, scoring 41 points as Mississippi State continued its historic run by advancing to the Final Four.
William, no doubt, is an inspiration to shorter players who have aspirations of reaching the college court. Don’t let your size hold you back.
Sunday night, she shot 13 of 22 from the field, including six of eight from three-point range and nine of 10 from the free-throw stripe. She also had seven assists with no turnovers in 40 minutes of play. It was amazing and lots of fun to watch.
And even more so, it’s obvious that William is the inspirational leader of this team. That is much more important than any statistic.
The other darling of the SEC in this tournament comes on the men’s side – South Carolina. They’re making history, too.
Coach Frank Martin has worked his way through the coaching ranks, from high school to college. And he’s taking the underdog Gamecocks to the Final Four.
I read this quote from him last week.
“You know what makes me sick to my stomach? When I hear grown people say that kids have changed. Kids haven’t changed. Kids don’t know anything about anything. We’ve changed as adults. We demand less of kids. We expect less of kids. We make their lives easier instead of preparing them for what life is truly about. We’re the ones who have changed.”
I first saw Martin coaching when he was at Kansas State, his stop before he came to South Carolina. I admit, I thought he was crazy on the sideline, yelling and all.
But after watching the interaction between him and his players in the tournament, it’s apparent Martin is indeed “a teddy bear,” as his mother told national columnist Mark Herrmann.
He loves his players and teaches them how to win – on and off the court.