By Chris Murray
For the Chris Murray Report
PHILADELPHIA—If you’re basketball playing son has ambitions of being an NBA lottery pick or being recruited by the big name brand schools like Duke, Kentucky, North Carolina, Kansas, or any of the schools from the big conferences and he is not even on their radar, he shouldn’t despair.
If you have been watching the NCAA Tournament the last few years, not being recruited by the big-time programs is definitely not the end of the world. Your kid can be a star at a mid-major that school ends up beating one of those schools in the NCAA Tournament.
Georgetown head coach John Thompson III said the success of the mid-majors over the last few years means that there is true parity in college basketball.
“I think as fans, writers and reporters we’ve been forced to categorize teams…this is a power six, this is a high major, this is a mid-major,” Thompson III said. “And so just because of how we’ve always done things, we want to assume that a team from this conference is not as good, as talented, as tough as a team from that conference and that’s just not the case anymore.”
The successful tournament runs of Virginia Commonwealth (2010 Final Four), Butler (2010 Final Four) and George Mason (2006 Final Four) has athletes from those schools believing they are just as good as the players from the big schools.
“Those teams set the bar set the bar for us mid-majors, especially this year in college basketball where anything can happen,” said Creighton junior forward Doug McDermott, whose team will play 10th –seeded Cincinnati in Friday’s second-rround NCAA Tournament game at the Wells Fargo Center. “Teams we played in the Missouri Valley Conference were really well-coached.”
Oddly enough, Creighton is leaving the Missouri Valley Conference for the new edition of the Big East Conference and they will cease being a mid-major school.
Still, some of the tournament’s most compelling moments have occur when players playing for a mid-major school become superstars for those teams. Often times, mid-major star is a player who was not heavily recruited by the schools from the BCS conferences.
“It’s an opportunity to show that maybe we did get missed or something like that,” said Florida Gulf Coast guard Eddie Murray before his team’s second-round match up against No. 2-seed Georgetown. “It’s an opportunity to show what we can do and see what happens.”
A case in point is Stephen Curry, who is now an NBA star with the Golden State Warriors. Even as the son of former NBA star Dell Curry, Stephen was not highly recruited at all. The only visit to a major conference school for Stephen was when Dell arranged a visit to his alma mater at Virginia Tech.
In 2006, Curry accepted a scholarship to Davidson, a team that had not been to the NCAA Tournament since 1969.
As a sophomore, he led Davidson on an incredible run through the NCAA Tournament knocking off teams like No. 2 seed Georgetown en route to leading his team to the Elite Eight. That season he was fifth in the nation in scoring and led the Southern Conference in that category as well.
It helps that schools like Florida Gulf Coast, champions of the Atlantic Sun Conference, also play a tough non-conference schedule. The Eagles biggest win of the non-conference schedule was a win over ACC champion Miami, the no. 2 seed in the East Region.
“That definitely gives us a lot of confidence,” said Florida Gulf Coast guard Sherwood Brown. “It makes us realize that even though they may by bigger than us, if you just play hard and play good defense, no matter what you can win.”
Perhaps the main draw that the mid-majors have is that the coaches get to work with the players for four years to develop their skills and they get to gel with their teams. That’s also a reason why those mid-level programs end up beating the bigger schools in the tournament because good players at the major programs end up jumping to the pros after a year or two.
“We have a very specific player development program that we’ve done and that’s why our players have made jumps,” said Florida Gulf Coast head coach Andy Enfield. “Players want to get better. They want to be big-time college players and a lot them want to make money when they get out.”