Pulliam’s Perspective: March Madness Memories
March 23 2017
GREENSBORO, N.C. – Since 2005, my profession as a scout has required me to watch NCAA March Madness on the road. However, after spending the last several weeks traveling and evaluating youth hoops talent, I am looking forward to enjoying the NCAA Sweet Sixteen and Elite Eight match-ups from the comforts of my own home for the first time in a long time.
My love for hoops dates back as far as I can remember and I’ve experienced many great March Madness memories throughout the years. Today, I still have a hard time believing that it’s my job to identify the future stars of the NCAA tournament, but it’s extremely rewarding to see players that I evaluated from a young age experiencing success on college basketball’s biggest stage.
This year, I want share a few of my special March Madness memories with you…
March 28, 1998: Hoops In The Wilderness
I wasn’t the most focused student so my parents were wise to keep me involved in extracurricular activities, one of which was The Boy Scouts. That’s right; uniform, camping gear, and all, I was hiking through a cold rain in the North Carolina mountains on this particular weekend. My pleas to stay home had been rejected but I landed what I felt was a pretty sweet circa-1990s compromise.
My dad loaned me a fifty-pound object, which functioned as part cement block, and part radio-television set. It was a labor of love to lug that thing for several miles to the campground site, but for one night, I became the most popular Boy Scout in America. Myself and a handful of friends, flanked by adult troop leaders, watched on a four-inch screen as North Carolina fell to Utah in a nail-biter.
A few years ago I ran into Andre Miller, who was coaching his son at the NOLA Super60, and told him the story. Miller was the Utes’ starting point guard on that night in 1998 and nearly hung a triple-double on North Carolina. We shared a laugh and talked in amazement about where a game can lead you and how quickly time passes.
April 5, 2008: Hoops In An Airport
A decade later, on a whim, I was in Ohio covering a Buckeye Prep event. Why? The now-defunct airline, SkyBus, was headquartered in Columbus and offered ridiculously cheap, nonstop airfare from my home in Greensboro, North Carolina. A basketball junkie in search of a deal, I booked the $50 roundtrip flight last-minute, only to receive an I-told-you-so phone call from my then-girlfriend (I somehow convinced her to marry me years later).
As it turned out, SkyBus had announced their bankruptcy that morning and ceased all operations immediately, leaving me stranded in Ohio. All was not lost, as the airport terminal had a television, and a security guard set me up with a cot for the night. I grabbed some grub, watched Kansas beat Memphis in overtime, and then rebooked an embarrassingly expensive one-way flight home the next morning. Ah, the memories.
The best part of this story was that many of the better players proved not to be on television that weekend, but playing in a middle school tournament, in the very gym where I was standing. I evaluated no less than ten future NBA players that weekend, including Bradley Beal, Michael (Kidd) Gilchrist, Jared Sullinger, Tony Wroten, and Cody Zeller.
Ready for the kicker? Tyler Lewis also played in the event, and you can watch the fifth-year senior on television tomorrow night as he leads Butler in their Sweet 16 game versus North Carolina.
March 17, 2012: Hoops In A Gym
This time I was on assignment in Salt Lake City, Utah for the X-Factor Invitational. Two of the aforementioned players that I had watched years earlier, Gilchrist (Kentucky) and Sullinger (Ohio State), would lead their teams to the 2012 Final Four soon-after, but I only caught the opening rounds while working out West.
This included watching Ohio play the role of “Cinderella” through the tournament’s opening weekend, advancing to the Sweet Sixteen, while featuring none other than Steve Taylor, the son of Buckeye Prep founder Rob Taylor.
It also happens that I distinctly remember De’Aaron Fox, then an eighth grader, telling me that weekend that he wanted to follow in the footsteps of one of his favorite players, Brandon Knight, and play in the Final Four one day.
My advice was, “One game at a time”, but in that moment I was referring to Fox leading his team to the middle school championship at the X-Factor Invitational. However, I’d say the same thing to Fox now, as he will lead Kentucky against UCLA with an Elite Eight bid on the line tomorrow night.
Those experiences and countless others bring me to today, and I hope lend credibility in your mind, to believe me when I say, anyone reading this “could be next”.
I’ve evaluated over 100 NBA Draft selections as middle-schoolers and observed, quite literally, thousands of players go on to compete at the NCAA Division 1 level. I hope that I am fortunate enough to continue working in youth hoops, and sharing stories like these for decades to come, which means next week I’ll be back on the road searching for future stars.
So, will you be next?!