From a window ledge, I watched E.C. Matthews hit a three to put the Rams back up in crunch time. RhodeIsland was making a push and Davidson kept turning it over. It was starting to feel like the magic was slipping away – that March feeling that crescendoed just weeks earlier on Senior Night during Davidson’s final-minute comeback against the Rams and carried through the first two games of the Atlantic 10 tournament. That all was beginning to feel not good enough.
But then Kellan Grady’s baseline floater brought it back with just 1:14 left in the game. Davidson made stops. Rhode Island missed shots. The Wildcats won the conference championship, and a ticket to the Big Dance.
The text messages came in from friends all over the country—we were all a little hesitant to say it, but things were starting to feel a little bit like 2008.
Davidson’s Elite 8 run meant so much to so many. The emotional bonds formed and memories made continue to endure. It became a rallying cry and a centering point for Davidson alumni around the world.
It also changed the trajectory of a lot of people’s lives, in very tangible ways.
The members of that basketball team had a pretty unique story to tell when they sat down for interviews for coaching jobs and with finance firms and non-profits and…ahem…the NBA.
The rest of us did, too. We were just there to watch, but as Michael Kruse ’00 wrote in his book, Taking the Shot, “We weren’t just watching them from afar, we were there with them. All together.”
I have so many friends from that 2008 class that say that the Davidson Elite 8 run came up during job interviews in whatever field they were looking to join. It certainly helped this humble scribe land an internship with the Carolina Panthers.
Now, 10 years later, I’m a full-time employee that reps the Wildcats just as hard as anyone else in the building.
That run changed Davidson, too. Offensive rebounds…defensive stands…three-point daggers. Those things turned into an invite to a new conference. A new athletic center. Increased applications. That guy wearing the red Davidson jersey at midcourt for every Warriors game.
Davidson basketball players and coaches…and students and alumni and administrators and local fans…used a game to change a college. To change a town. To change the context of what it means to have that line on a resume:
Education: Davidson College
“Excuse me. Did you…go to Davidson?”
I turn around to find a college-aged woman in a red long-sleeve tee shirt standing behind me at the railing in the airport. Davidson had just a missed shot and I let my frustrations…well, show.
“Haha, yeah,” I said. “Will Bryan, class of ’08.”
“Oh my God! You were there then! I’m a sophomore tour guide on campus,” she said. “We always talk about what it was like back then and how fun this place is during basketball season.”
I smiled and made a place for her on the railing, glancing over to watch as she lived all the emotions of every play.
Slowly but almost inevitably, Davidson crept back into the lead. A crowd gathered in front of two huge screens in one of the busiest airports in the country on Selection Sunday.
One screen had Kentucky-Tennessee in the SEC championship. The other, Davidson-Rhode Island. The two games had equal footing (the irony coming just two hours later with the selection committee’s pairing of Davidson and Kentucky).
Davidson was now in a conference that plays its championship game on Selection Sunday. Davidson had done the robust work of building a narrative centered around a college basketball team that was fun to root for and even more fun to watch.
Rhode Island’s last-second heave ricocheted off of the backboard and into obscurity, the confetti flew and the team went wild—I turned to my right to watch a new generation of Wildcat write a chapter in her book (or more accurately, record an Instagram story chapter for her book).
Ten years ago, after Davidson beat Georgetown to go to the Sweet 16, I wrote about how much this matters. How this changes lives. How nothing will ever be the same again.
Over time, I have reread that and scoffed at the naivete of an over-enthusiastic college student. But honestly, it does matter. It still does. It creates a heartfelt love that emanates from a unique place. Binding and all-encompassing. And then there is the joy that comes in passing it down from one generation to the next.
This week, Davidson will get a shot at one of the blue bloods of college basketball. Literally. “Big Blue.” And who knows, maybe magic will happen again. Maybe the threes will fall and the rebounds will come down just right, and the Wildcats will advance again.
And the next generation of Davidson students will get to say, “remember what it was like in 2018?”