When this decade began, I couldn’t have told you a single thing about UConn basketball. Now, as the decade concludes, I cover UConn basketball as a job for the student paper.
Not that I see it as a job — attending every home game, talking to Dan Hurley and the team, turning basketball games into (hopefully) compelling narratives is a great gig. But middle school me would not have believed where I’ve ended up.
Before 2011, I never even remotely followed college hoops, or really any basketball for that matter. I had been raised solely on the Yankees and Giants, and when it came to the collegiate level, I considered myself a Michigan football fan just by way of adopting my dad’s rooting interest.
In March 2011, nearing the end of seventh grade, my life would be altered forever — OK, a little dramatic, but life-changing nonetheless. My friends at the time decided to create a March Madness bracket group, with the main competition being to create a better bracket than our beloved social studies teacher.
I had never filled out a bracket before, nor did I have any preexisting college basketball knowledge whatsoever. So I did what any uninformed bracket participant does: Choose mostly randomly, picking against schools I vaguely disliked and betting on schools I liked.
With no frame of reference to rely on, I remember picking an absurd number of upsets, having a general idea that that’s what the tournament is known for. Despite the fact that 2011 ended up being one of the most upset-heavy tourneys in history, I still vastly overestimated how far the underdogs would go.
But there was one bold prediction that I felt good about: Picking UConn to win it all. Perhaps it was due to having lived my entire life in Connecticut, perhaps it was the abundance of Huskies sweatshirts at my middle school, perhaps it was the giant UConn flag hanging in our social studies classroom. I even made my ESPN username ‘uconnisthebest,’ which remains my username to this day. How adorable!
Our social studies teacher was the biggest Huskies fan I had ever met, and even he was not brave enough to have UConn cutting down the nets. My classmates relentlessly teased me for betting against that year’s heavyweights — Duke, Ohio State, Kansas and Pitt — in favor of a hometown bias.
Hopefully this isn’t news to you, but ultimately UConn was, in fact, the best. The Huskies, a No. 3 seed, ran through the West Region, knocked off Kentucky in the Final Four and smothered Butler in the national championship game to claim the third national title in program history.
I still remember that improbable run, win after win, the legend of Kemba Walker being immortalized before our eyes. We also did our brackets entirely on paper, meaning after every round we would gather together and manually highlight each pick in green or red. Today’s online brackets are great and all, but there is something special about doing it by hand, especially with other people. Crossing out each incorrect pick certainly makes it more painful, but it also makes every correct one all the more rewarding.
As the rest of my bracket crumbled, the Huskies kept delivering, all the way to the promised land. As far as I remember, I’ve only correctly chosen the champion once since that first year of doing a bracket. I wish I could say it was 2014, but I haven’t gone all-in on UConn since 2011. Instead, it was the 2016 Villanova team that fulfilled my bracket prophecy — and you have no idea how crazy I went when that Kris Jenkins buzzer beater dropped.
Before that 2011 tournament, I probably had never watched a single UConn basketball game, men’s or women’s, in my life. Fast forward to today, and I not only attend every men’s home game, but also have had the pleasure of traveling to Madison Square Garden, Memphis and, soon enough, Houston later this season. I went from not knowing who Jim Calhoun was to getting behind-the-scenes access to Hurley’s team, from practices to postgame.
More broadly, college basketball has perhaps become my favorite sport to watch, and there’s absolutely no better sports day of the year than the chaotic first day of the Round of 64. If 2011 was my introduction to college basketball, my only regret is that it didn’t happen earlier — though if I had known any better, I probably wouldn’t have picked UConn to win the title either.
It’s been an incredible decade in the world of sports, and UConn is a fantastic place to be surrounded by fellow obsessive sports fans. Here’s to the next 10 years of sports, and who knows, perhaps that uconnisthebest username will have once again been proven true in college basketball by the time we’re looking back on another decade.