Bryce is Right: Inside AU's NCAA Tourney Trip
American's Bryce Simon has agreed to provide daily reports this week as the Eagles go to their second straight NCAA tournament. He'll be writing about their send-off rally (this afternoon), their media session and two practices in Philly (tomorrow) and their game against three-seed Villanova in its home city (Thursday night). You can read more about Bryce in this John Feinstein column, and find the rest of The Post's tournament coverage here. Bryce's first entry, about the selection show and the excitement on campus, is below. He'll be back in this space tomorrow at the same time.
For introductory purposes, my name is Bryce Simon, and I'm a senior forward on the American University basketball team. I'm from the small town of Syracuse, Kansas, population 1,600. After I graduated from high school (my graduating class had 35 students), I attended Pratt Community College and transferred to AU before my junior year. The transition to Washington, D.C. is hard to describe - my town had one stoplight - but I wouldn't trade my experience here for anything.
Last year, in the semifinals of the Patriot League tournament, I tore a ligament in my knee, forcing me to miss the PL finals and NCAA Tournament game against Tennessee. It was tough to watch the end of the season from the sidelines, but that did not damper the excitement of watching my teammates win the school's first ever conference title and give Tennessee "all they wanted," as Tennessee Coach Bruce Pearl put it.
It's been a tough road to recovery for me this season, but with the help and support of my athletic trainer, coaches, and teammates I have been blessed to return to the court with my teammates and help contribute to another conference championship. We're so excited to get back to the Big Dance and have AU on the national stage again.
This year's Selection Sunday festivities were yet another great surprise. The turnout at our student center was more proof to me and my teammates how much the school and community really cares about our team. Having the pep band, cheerleaders and students gathered at Mary Graydon to watch the brackets unfold live on TV was really, really cool. (And yesterday, I checked out the line of students waiting for NCAA tickets to go on sale -- I think there were around 400 people!) That's great support and really adds to the excitement.
Even though we knew we would eventually see our name show up in the bracket, it was really nerve-wracking to sit and wait. At one point our coach, Jeff Jones, even leaned over asked me, "We did make it in, didn't we?" At that point I realized how hard it must be to be a bubble team watching the selection show. I could not imagine sitting there not knowing whether or not your name would ever pop up. Finally, they announced us in the East Region, which was the third bracket released.
This is the second year that all this has happened to us and I'm kind of getting used to (and really like) the media attention. I didn't get that back home in Kansas. On a personal level, I have some mixed feelings about us playing in Philadelphia. I realize it is a great opportunity for all of our fans to come and watch us play, and many of my teammates are from back this way so their families will have short travels. It was enjoyable to hear the sounds of relief when we were not announced in the K.C., Boise, or Portland sites. Of course, my selfish side wanted to be at one of those places to make it easier on my own family, but they will be making the trip and all will be well.
Our opponent in the first round, Villanova, is a great team. The game is obviously being played in their backyard, so we know they will have a great crowd but we also know that the Blue Crew and other AU fans will come ready to be loud and cheer us on. It will be a great challenge for us, but we're really excited for this opportunity and we are ready to take advantage of it.
After we won the Patriot League championship on Friday, we were able to relax over the weekend and enjoy our title. But now that Selection Sunday has come and gone, it's time for us to get focused on the task at hand. This a very senior-oriented and mature team with great leaders (Derrick Mercer, Garrison Carr and Brian Gilmore), and I believe we will be able to handle all that comes with playing in the NCAA tournament and be ready to play on Thursday at 7:20 p.m.
I'll be back tomorrow to write more about our preparations, and the process of getting ready to go to Philly. Thanks for reading, and go Eagles!
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