Long Shots by Jay Bilas

Long Shots by Jay Bilas

Author:Jay Bilas
Language: deu
Format: epub
Publisher: Triumph Books
Published: 2017-01-26T05:00:00+00:00

Chapter Six

Flicked from Kris Jenkins’ fingertips, the ball tracked toward the net. Where it landed would determine more than just the 2016 national champion. If it slipped through the net, it would vindicate and validate. If it missed—wide right, wide left, long, or short—it could lead to the latest in a series of excruciating NCAA Tournament losses for Villanova.

Or so went the collective thinking, that this basketball team would be defined by which direction that basketball went.

Hours earlier, in the quiet of the locker room, Father Rob Hagan stood before the Villanova players for the final pregame prayer and message of the season. The priest and associate athletic director likes to find a hook for his young players, a way to connect a deeper purpose to a simple basketball game. In previous weeks he’d connected his Gospel message to Rocky Balboa and the 1980 U.S. Olympic gold medal ice hockey team, both upstart champions. Villanova, he’d told them, knows all about being underdogs. It’s part of the team’s identity, dating all the way back to 1985 when the eighth-seeded Wildcats upset Georgetown for their first national title.

In the minutes before Villanova tipped off against North Carolina, hours before Jenkins would launch that fateful shot, Hagan looked at the players surrounding him and delivered a simple, yet powerful, message.

“Tonight, I don’t really need any of those other examples,” he said. “The example is you.”

On face value, the 2016 Villanova basketball team as an underdog would seem a hard sell. For three weeks, the Wildcats held the No. 1 ranking in the nation and rolled into the NCAA Tournament as a No. 2 seed, courtesy of their 29–5 record. But underdogs aren’t merely borne out of statistics; perceptions mold them, too, and no matter how many games it won, no matter how high its ranking soared, Villanova couldn’t quiet the skeptics.

Before the season, Las Vegas odds makers made Villanova a 25-1 shot to win the national title, giving the Wildcats the same chance as Wichita State, Gonzaga, Michigan, Arizona, and UConn. Before the NCAA Tournament, the odds improved only marginally, to 12–1. Prior to the actual championship game, even after the Wildcats dispatched of Oklahoma in the national semifinal in a record-setting thrashing, North Carolina was tabbed the 2.5-point favorite.

Hagan knew all of that, the perception at least if not the actual odds. So did everyone else in that locker room. Villanova players and coaches had spent the better part of the entire season answering questions about what they’d failed to accomplish in the past instead of what they had achieved in the present. They knew for every fan sitting in Houston’s NRG Stadium there were probably two, maybe more, critics who doubted their chances and were waiting, if not flat-out expecting, them to fail.

But played correctly, there’s also something liberating about being an underdog. No one expects much of them. They aren’t supposed to win. So while everyone else spent the entirety of the NCAA Tournament putting pressure on Villanova to


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