Carlin Dupree was on SportsCenter. Are you kidding me? Carlin Dupree was on SportsCenter.
That was my 'pinch myself' moment. It was after midnight in Spokane, and it was almost too surreal to believe it was happening. There was Carlin, our true freshman guard from downtown Milwaukee, in our hotel room talking on the television screen on one of the most popular sports shows in the nation.
Several hours before, the team had knocked off the number five seed Oklahoma for the first NCAA Tournament win in North Dakota State University history. The dramatic details down the stretch have been relived and replayed elsewhere, but Carlin had been a big part of it. When Summit League Player of the Year Taylor Braun fouled out in overtime, Carlin came off the bench to score four straight points, lifting NDSU to a victory.
It's not that Carlin's spot on my screen wasn't warranted.
As a true freshman with a sometimes limited role on the court, Carlin had only done three media interviews all season. His first appearance was with the in-house multimedia crew. His second was with the student newspaper on campus. Carlin's only other interview came by virtue of being nearby when I found out that one of our more prominent players was ill and couldn't do his scheduled appearance one afternoon.
And now there was Carlin, suddenly a recognizable name for college basketball fans across the country, sitting in front of the official NCAA Tournament backdrop wearing his green jersey with North Dakota State University spelled across the chest.
That should have been enough to make me smile, but here's what really put me over the top: Carlin took a question from a reporter about himself and answered it by saying how much it meant to him to be able to extend his teammates' season. It would have been easy, and - quite frankly, should have been expected - for him to talk about himself, his moment and what it meant to him.
He did not do that. Through all his excitement, he was honest and humble. He spoke about his teammates.
I smiled from ear to ear.
Now, Carlin doesn't deserve all the attention here. He was just one prominent example of how the NDSU men's basketball team capitalized on its time in the national spotlight at the 2014 NCAA Tournament. Taylor Braun, Marshall Bjorklund, TrayVonn Wright, Lawrence Alexander, Kory Brown and the rest of the guys did just as fine of a job representing our university.
After the extreme adrenaline rush of the overtime victory over Oklahoma, the guys on the team had to attend the postgame media press conference and take media interviews in the locker room. Our student athletes and coaches did radio interviews in New York and San Diego, to Portland and Florida, to the Twin Cities and Chicago.
Dozens of national media requests rolled in - ESPN, CBS, Sports Illustrated, SiriusXM radio shows, the SVP & Russillo radio show on ESPN, the Jim Rome Show. Players did on-camera interviews with CBS/Turner, and we even had a video crew assigned to follow the team for all-access footage. We also made sure to take care of all the Fargo and North Dakota media that had traveled to Spokane to cover the team. Spanning the 36-hour time frame leading into our third round game against San Diego State, the media crush had the potential to become grueling and overwhelming.
There's been a lot of talk recently about whether student athletes should be treated like professionals. I don't have any clue about the answer to that question, but I do know for a fact that our guys handled themselves like professionals.
Never once did I have one of the guys on the team say, "No, thanks. I've had enough." To a man, they all weathered the media storm with flying colors. They all handled themselves in a professional manner and took great pride in the opportunity to represent their university.
It showed. I can't recall the number of people who came up to me and told me how great it was to work with our guys. From NCAA officials to members of the national media to arena employees, I received a steady stream of positive feedback. Common themes emerged. I heard about how tough our guys were and how hard they played. I heard about how humble and polite they were and what a treat it was to interact with them. I heard about how evident it was that they had pride in their university and how they had fun representing NDSU.
From my perspective, seeing our guys shine in press conferences and on television and hearing them talk about their teammates, their athletic department and their school with such pride - that actually means more to me than what they accomplished on the court. For 99 percent of them, in ten years it won't matter if they can make a three-pointer, grab a rebound or block a shot. But it will matter that they are humble, thoughtful, eloquent individuals.
Those are the kind of skills that will take them places in life and continue to make them excellent ambassadors for our university.
With the time demands of the job, unfortunately that's not something I get an opportunity to think about on a daily basis. Too often, we get caught up in the hustle and bustle of the day-to-day tasks, trying to get things completed and making sure events run smoothly.
I want to take this opportunity to publicly thank our student athletes for the reminder they gave me. During the blur of the NCAA Tournament, I didn't get a lot of time to take a step back and appreciate what had been accomplished. A few weeks later, it is very evident.
While I can't guarantee that our student athletes always see the big picture, it is clear now that the big picture sees them. And the big picture most definitely likes what it sees.
BY WES OFFERMAN