D.A.: My Favorite Memories Of March Madness


This year's NCAA Tournament is the never was, the "gone before we knew ya" edition. It was all setting up to be one of the most fun and unpredictable brackets we've ever had. Was Kansas a truly dominant team? Or were interlopers like San Diego State and Dayton legitimate contenders? Could unfamiliar faces like Seton Hall and BYU dance deeper than they had in generations? Who were the mid-major busters that would break the office pools? 

We'll never have our answers, so instead we look back and reminisce. March is for unpredictable icons, dramatic chaos and late-game heroics. Every morning since the tournament was cancelled, we’ve invited on a memorable personality from Madness Past to recollect the stories. Here's my personal favorites: 

“The legendary Bo Schembechler comes in, meets with us all inside the gymnasium and said he wants a Michigan man to coach a Michigan team,” Mills recalled. “That was a big shock to us at that point, but I give Coach Fisher a lot of credit. He took every player, brought them in individually and just said what he expected. We were all on board with what he had to say.”

Michigan star Terry Mills reflected on the bizarre beginning to the '89 title run. The Wolverines got wind their head coach, Bill Freider, was leaving after the season to take the Arizona State job. Instead of allowing it to unfold, Bo pulled the plug and fired him the day before the tourney. In one of the craziest outcomes to a firing ever, assistant Steve Fisher was promoted and led the Wolverines all the way to the national championship three weeks later. Will we ever see that again?  

"So for Jabari, there’s no reason I can’t go into this, but we had a one-dribble rule on him. I guarded him most of the game, and then we rotated a few others. But I basically took his initial shot away because he’s a set shooter, and as soon as he put it on the deck, whoever was in the gap was automatically going to bum-rush or come at him with open hands for at least one step. As soon as he picked it up, you’re going up to the shooter – because if he doesn’t make it all the way to the rim, he didn’t really shoot midrange shots."

Mercer standout Jakob Gollon candidly discussed the gameplan in the shocking upset of 3-seeded Duke. No one gave Mercer much of a chance to beat the Blue Devils, especially considering most basketball fans didn't even know where it was located (Macon, GA).  But the Bears had the perfect gameplan to disrupt the future NBA players on Duke, including Jabari Parker. Mercer was filled with seniors like Gollon looking for their first tournament apperance and weren't to be denied once they got there. The directive was clear. Force Parker and the Blue Devils to shoot and make them uncomfortable. It worked to historic perfection. 

“It’s a good feeling. There’s no doubt about it. It’s a good feeling. It’s just one of those halves where you find a little bit of room. I made six; there was probably two that weren’t high-quality shots. But because of the rhythm of the game and because you’ve hit a few, you take one because you know if you get a look it’s going in. But that was the mentality.”

Gerry McNamara shot Syracuse into the lead in the '03 title game, and talked about what it's like to be in the zone. Imagine the biggest game of your life and you can't miss a shot? That was G-Mac in the first half against Kansas in the national title game. He hit an incredible half-dozen threes to help SU to a 50-point total at the break. The Orange would hold on for the only title in program history. His legend still remains at SU, where he's an assistant on staff and his image hangs on the banner inside the Carrier Dome. G-Mac was unconscious as a true freshman on the biggest stage. Talk about onions. 

“We were thankful that we played Georgetown instead of St. John’s. Coach [Rollie] Massimino was a matchup-zone guy. Georgetown, if they had a weakness, they were not a great perimeter-shooting team. That played to us. St. John’s had Chris Mullin. He was a lot more than just a great shooter, but he was so hard to match up with in a matchup zone. He just torched us three times. We were much better off playing Georgetown. Coach Massimino knew we could pack this thing in and challenge from the perimeter and rebound the ball, play slow. It had worked before, and it worked that night.”

No one ever preferred to play the Hoyas in their heyday with Patrick Ewing, so Steve Lappas' claim was a stunner. He was a first-year assistant on the Cinderella Villanova team that shocked the world in '85. Georgetown had been in three national championship games in four years with Ewing, and the little ol' 8-seeded Wildcats were given no chance. But the experience of having played the Hoyas twice in the Big East regular season was a huge confidence boost to 'Nova. Apparently, they felt they matched up better with the Hoyas than the Johnnies, and they made good on their confidence. It has been called "The Perfect Game" played by the Wildcats, as they shot nearly 80 percent from the field. It still is considered the greatest upset in a championship game ever. 

“To this day, it blows me away to see Michael Jordan catch that ball with 17 seconds to go and fire it in. He didn’t have a great game up to that point. He had a good game, but he’s a freshman. He’s a freshman with James Worthy and Sam Perkins on the court. There’s 63,000 people at the game. It’s the first time they played in the domed-arena. He could have easily shot-faked the ball and moved it. But he took it. It wasn’t like it was a wide-open shot. But that’s the Michael Jordan we have come to know and love. He has it. Whatever you want to call it, he has it. That came through on that final shot in 1982.”

Matt Doherty was on the court as the legend of His Airness was born. Against one of the best defensive teams in the nation, Jordan never doubted his shot. UNC had been seeking its first championship under legendary coach Dean Smith and the '82 edition delivered it. Against Georgetown, Jordan didn't have a great game, but when the game came down to the final seconds he never wavered. It would be a familiar refrain for the rest of his career. The legend was born. 

From legends in the making to otherworldly upsets, we missed a month of them this year due to the pandemic. But at least we can always fondly recall the previous times it happened, to give us that warm and bracket-busting feeling anyway. 

Damon Amendolara, known by his fans as D.A., hosts “The D.A. Show,” from 6:00AM-10:00AM, ET, across the country on the nation’s largest 24/7 major-market radio network. “The D.A. Show” is known for its unique perspective on sports, tongue-in-cheek sense of humor, colorful listener interaction, and candid interviews with athletes and coaches. Amendolara also appears regularly on NFL Network as part of the “NFL Top 10” documentary film series, CBS television and SNY TV. He is a Syracuse University grad and native of Warwick, N.Y.