I’m pretty sure everyone in the room was thinking the same thing that Sunday evening when we saw Hampton pop up on the Selection Show screen as a 15-seed.
No, it wasn’t the fact we’d probably get blown out by at least 30 against some power conference team, take a few pictures, get a free t-shirt and come back home.
Collectively, we thought, where the hell is Boise, Idaho?
After completing one of the best seasons in the history of Hampton University basketball, our team would take on Jamaal Tinsley and Iowa State in the first round of the 2001 NCAA tournament Thursday on the campus of Boise State University.
I remember that season vividly because as a freshman in the band, being a part of the pep band was an unofficial requirement. We had to be at every game, all season. And fortunately, that was rewarded with a trip to the Big Dance.
But believe me, when I did my brackets, there was no way in hell I thought Hampton would advance past the first round. No way.
That night we had an “emergency” meeting detailing the week to come. And not knowing we were about to experience a week that would be ingrained in our memories forever, a bunch of black folk from an HBCU in Virginia prepared for a trip across country to Idaho.
We often talk now about a post-racial America. The Age of Obama. A time when race doesn’t matter as much as it did in our parents and grandparents era.
That may well be the case. But there are still parts of the country where races don’t intersect and diversity is all but nonexistent. And when the two completely different worlds of young, urban black students and a conservative city of Boise where 90 % of the population is white collided, it was a first.
Trust me on this.
But to me, that’s what would make the trip special.
Before that Thursday evening, I’d never attended an NCAA tournament game. I’d watched, read about and listened to people talk about how great of an event it was, and how you had to go to an opening round of the NCAAs. But being young and naïve, I naturally dismissed it.
The moment we arrived in the arena, I realized I had been missing out.
The unique thing about that night, some 11 years ago, is that of the four opening round games, four of the teams were from the same region. Georgetown, George Mason, Maryland and Hampton.
So in a way, it felt somewhat familiar. Most fans of those schools knew of Hampton, but didn’t know Hampton.
But when our boys hit the floor and we hit the opening note of HU fanfare, we were not only introduced to Iowa State and the city of Boise, but we introduced Hampton University to the world.
To say we rocked The Pavilion would be an understatement. Our tunes, in sequence with the cheerleaders, turned that night into a party and instantly made US the stars of the evening.
Even still, as the game progressed, the thought of winning hadn’t even crossed my mind, or anyone in the arena.
But then, the damndest thing happened.
Down 55-44, somehow, someway, the Pirates kept it close, chipping way and eventually getting it under ten points. As with any potential upset, the neutral crowd began to sway towards our side and we began to think, albeit as unbelievable as it seemed, that we had a chance.
We did. We won. A 15 beat a 2. 58-57
What happened after the buzzer sounded is a blur. We stormed the court in celebration, trying our best to get on camera and in the celebration with the team, cheerleaders and fellow Hamptonians. The next thing you know, everything Hampton was on the cover of every newspaper and television show across the country. We were the Cinderella story that year.
Over the next couple of days, we walked around Boise as rock stars. Applauded whenever we came through the lobby or went out to eat. Treated like VIPs at the local clubs. White folk in Boise loving and cheering us? Yes, it happened. And although the dream run would end a few days later against Georgetown, the love fest didn’t. I’ll never forget the standing ovation the people of Boise gave us as the game ended.
Five days after we boarded a plane back to Boise, we headed back to our lives as college students. Tired, but still riding high from a week of fun, excitement and an experience of a lifetime.
And for the rest of our lives, when we think of that week, we’ll think of it with the fondest of memories.
I know I will.