Sitting on the hard wooden floor, in clothes designed to fit a man, I’m mopping up the sweat that’s pooling off the players. Doesn’t sound like the most glamorous job, right?
Well it is. Sitting on the court for all the Men’s NCAA Final Four Championship games in Indianapolis, is pretty much amazing. The front row seat is awesome. The clothes and the shoes from Nike are all free. And the players’ sweat? Well I’ll mop up Gordon Hayward’s sweat any day.
Yep, I got to be a “Ball Kid” for the Final Four. Of course there is more to being a ball kid than watching the games. And there is more to the Final Four than just the games.
Friday, the teams practice for four hours. This really isn’t a lot of fun. With Saturday came the semifinal games. I silently prayed for Butler to win, even when they were struggling throughout most of the first half. But by the half Butler had tied Michigan State at 28.
The second half of the game was even better. I sat there on the court watching the Dawgs keep up and take the lead from the Spartans.
Even with Korie Lucious’ mystical ability to drop every field goal, Butler won 52-50.
I may have broken the “don’t cheer for either team; stay neutral” rule when I screamed out loud that mid-major Butler had actually topped Tom Izzo and the Spartans.
Honestly, the second game wasn’t as intense. Duke seemed to dominate West Virginia. I got to clean up after the West Virginia timeouts, which meant standing next to the West Virginia bench and listening to Bob Huggins colorful pep talks to his players.
The real heartbreaker in the game was Da’Sean Butler. Butler fell after going up for a rebound and ended up leaving the game with an injury.
He fell a mere foot from where I was sitting. I don’t think I have ever seen anyone in more physical pain than Butler. Huggins then came onto the court to scream at the ref for not calling a foul, using more colorful language to emphasize his point. But then he got down on his knees and comforted his player.
After that Duke sealed the deal 78-57.
The night of the final game, it was storming in Indianapolis. When we entered the dome hours before tip-off the place was already electric. We spent time in the media room during the pre-game. Everyone was buzzing about the same thing: David vs Goliath.
But when they walked out onto the court that night, David and Goliath seemed pretty evenly matched. Butler kept the game close the whole time, but Duke powered through the Butler defense.
Besides the Jayhawks victory in 2008, this was by far one of the most exciting final games I had been to. Even when Hayward’s last second half-court heave rimmed out and gave the Blue Devils the national championship, it was a perfect game.
But it was made better by the look on Hayward’s face when he missed. He was satisfied. Just being a part of the game had been enough for Hayward. All of the Butler team was content. No one layed down on the court and cried, they congratulated Duke and walked off to their locker room.
It was the essence of college basketball.