Excerpt from The Final Four

Saturday March 31, 7:13 PM, CT. -- The Louisiana Superdome

Just because the game clock has stopped, don't believe for a single second that the hearts of the ten basketball players on the court have quit pounding.

It's not possible.

That same intense rhythm beats inside the chests of the players and coaches on the sidelines for the Michigan State Spartans and the Trojans of Troy University.

Only 6.9 seconds remain in regulation time, with underdog Troy leading 64 to 62.

The Spartans' 18-year-old freshman point guard sensation Malcolm McBride glares into the eyes of his defender Roko Bacic. "Don't even think you can stop me from scoring," says Malcolm. "This is the real world we're living in, not a damn storybook." Then Malcolm kisses the fingers on his left hand, before touching them to the tattooed portrait of his sister on his right arm. The name TRISHA encircles her carefully detailed and beautiful face, resting against Malcolm's black skin.

"If I don't stop you, maybe you'll trip over your big mouth," says Roko, whose teammates call "Red Bull" for his mop of curly red hair and boundless energy.

Malcolm has earned a tag, too–One and Done.

But it's not something his teammates call him to his face.

The media gave him that name during his senior year in high school, when Malcolm declared he'd enter the NBA draft as soon as he was eligible–after one year of college ball.

As a stripe-shirted referee hands the basketball to a player with the word STATE across his chest, Malcolm in green and Roko in cardinal red begin their fight for position.

Drenched in sweat, their arms and legs slide off of one another's–grappling, pushing and pulling to the limits the refs will allow.

The Spartans have only until the count of five to inbound the ball. And as the referee's hand slices the air for the fourth time, Malcolm finally shakes free.

He receives the inbounds pass, restarting the game clock.

In a heartbeat, Malcolm sizes up Red Bull who defends him tightly, denying the opportunity for a deep three-point basket to win.

So Malcolm makes his move to the hoop, exploding to his right, and then cutting the angle sharply left. Little more than a second remains as Malcolm stops his dribble on a dime, driving his legs into the slatted wooden floor. Then Malcolm's wiry 6 foot 3 inch frame takes air.

Red Bull shadows him all the way, just a fraction behind.

At the height of his leap, Malcolm focuses his sight on the rim as Red Bull's outstretched hands flash across his face. Despite the strain in his muscles, Malcolm's touch is light. And he releases the rock like a feather onto a breeze.

Neither Malcolm nor Red Bull sees the shot go in as their bodies tumble to the court. But they both hear the clean swish of the ball through the netting before the Louisiana Superdome explodes in sound, and the clock is reset for overtime.

From that morning's newspaper...

Cinderella Crashes Final Four Ball

New Orleans, LA- Yes, Cinderella has arrived at the Big Dance in the Big Easy. The Trojans of Troy University–the Cinderella story of the Men's NCAA Basketball Tournament, will take on the heavily favored Michigan State Spartans in the first semi-final at the Final Four, tonight at 5:07 PM, CT. The nearly 56,000 fans expected to fill the Louisiana Superdome will represent the largest crowd in front of which the Trojans, whose home arena seats a mere 4,000, have ever played.

"March Madness" is what the NCAA Tournament is called, and for good reason. Few pundits could have predicted that Troy, which had never won an NCAA Tournament game before, would still be dancing in this single-elimination tournament that has so far sent more than 60 teams packing over nearly three weeks of competition. In comparison, Michigan State, a perennial contender for the title, has been crowned National Champions twice and reached the Final Four on several other occasions.

Controversial freshman and soon to be NBA draft-bound Malcolm McBride, who made national headlines yesterday by criticizing the NCAA and stating that the players who put on this tournament should receive part of the over $700-million dollars generated by it, is the Spartans' leading scorer and top trash talker.

"This isn't even going to be a game. It's going to be more like a workout on national TV," said McBride, who hails from the tough Brewster-Douglass Housing Projects on the East side of Detroit. "The clock's going to strike midnight early for these Cinderella Troy boys. The glass slipper doesn't fit. They're going home as pumpkins. And I'll tell them that on the court to their faces, too."

Junior Roko Bacic is the Trojans' high energy leader. Born and raised in the war-torn and rebuilding country of Croatia along the coast of Eastern Europe, Bacic has experienced his share of intense battles as well. Bacic figures to guard McBride one-on-one most of the night. How will he respond to the brash freshman's trash talking?

"He has freedom of speech. That's very special. It's one of the things that I love most about the US," said Bacic. "But I also find (McBride) to be pretty annoying. He can say whatever he wants. Now he just has to be correct and back it up on the basketball court, or look very foolish."

An American film and music buff, the redheaded Croatian credits his study of entertainment with mastering the English language and its accents.

"Even if McBride scores a big basket or two," said Bacic, before slipping into his best Arnold Schwarzenegger voice from The Terminator. "On defense, I'll be back."

The last time the Spartans and Trojans met for stakes this high was in the Trojan War of Greek Mythology, when the Spartans left a huge wooden horse outside the gates of Troy. Believing the gift to be a sign that the war was over; the Trojans brought the horse into their city. That night, the Spartan soldiers, who had hidden inside the horse, opened the gates of Troy for their army to burn the city down.

Earlier this week, Coach Alvin Kennedy of Troy showed his players Hollywood's version of that mythical war in the movie Troy. "My team loved it," said Kennedy. "They'll be sure not to fall for any trick plays now. They even liked the fact that the Spartans won in the movie, because together as a team, we're ready to rewrite history."

In the nightcap at 7:47 CT., the North Carolina Tar Heels and Duke Blue Devils, a pair of traditional Bluebloods with nine National Championships and over 30 Final Four appearances between them, will compete for the right to take on the Troy/Michigan State winner in the championship game on Monday night.

Troy University Trojans–Troy, Alabama

No. Name Pos. Ht. Wt. Yr. Hometown
23 Bacic, Roko G 6-4 205 Jr. Zagreb, Croatia
13 Boyce, Aaron F 6-6 218 Sr. New Orleans, LA.
45 Rice, Crispin C 6-10 238 Sr. Vinemont, Ala.
32 Hall, Tom G 6-1 190 Sr. Olive Hill, KY.
30 Delaney, Clay F 6-8 225 So. Anniston, Ala.

Coach- Alvin Kennedy (5th year)

Team Colors- cardinal red, black, and silver

Mascot- T-Roy (Trojan soldier)

Summary- Surprise winners of nine straight games, team chemistry is the Trojans' strong suit. Coach Alvin Kennedy has his players believing in themselves and not acting like tourists at the Final Four. For the Trojans to win Roko "Red Bull" Bacic, an emerging pro prospect, must find a way to contain All-American Malcolm McBride. Undersized center Crispin Rice must stay out of foul trouble against Michigan State's enormous frontcourt. Sweet shooting Aaron Boyce, a New Orleans native who outlasted Hurricane Katrina in the Superdome, must find that same resolve against the defensive minded Spartans.

Michigan State Spartans–East Lansing, Michigan

No. Name Pos. Ht. Wt. Yr. Hometown
11 McBride, Malcolm G 6-3 195 Fr. Detroit, MI.
25 Cousins, John C 7-0 270 Sr. Flint, MI.
5 Wilkins, DeJuan F 6-9 260 Jr. Euclid, OH.
14 Pitt, William F 6-7 200 Sr. Willoughby, OH.
15 Serling, Ed F 6-7 200 Sr. Willoughby, OH.

Coach- Eddie Barker (14th year)

Team Colors- Green and white

Mascot- Sparty (Spartan soldier)

Summary- The Spartans have been here before and succeeded under Coach Eddie Barker, where the Trojans have not. If Barker can control the shot selection and attitude of freshman point guard Malcolm McBride, a sure lottery pick in June's NBA draft, the Spartans should cruise here. "Grizzly Bear" Cousins and "Baby Bear" Wilkins are no Yogi and Boo-Boo, and should devour rebounds against the smaller Trojans. The Michigan State bench is considerably stronger as well, even in name, boasting a junior reserve named Michael Jordan. Even Sparty, the foam rubber costumed mascot, is taller and more buff than the Trojan's T-Roy.

7:15 PM, CT.

On a cable sports network providing live updates from the Final Four...

Announcer: Welcome back to Sports News ‘Round the Clock, tonight we are truly all things Final Four. Just moments ago, Michigan State freshman Malcolm McBride, who all year has declared himself to be "one and done" as he awaits entry into the NBA, buried a tough shot at the buzzer sending the first semi-final game at the Final Four into overtime. The dramatic basket kept the Spartans' hopes for a third national title alive and put another inconceivable celebration by the underdog Trojans of Troy on hold.

It has seemingly been all about Malcolm McBride for the past 32 hours or so. Now, in case you missed it, here are highlights of yesterday's question and answer session with the media and a trio of Michigan State players. All of the questions, of course, are aimed at the outspoken McBride. His lightening rod responses have since drawn a thunderstorm of criticism from defenders of the current college basketball system and a swift counterstatement by his school. And that thunderstorm still reverberates tonight as he leads the Spartans into overtime in the Superdome.

(On screen) Malcolm McBride sits between two of his teammates at a long table on a raised platform. Each player has a microphone set before them and a folded piece of cardboard displaying their name. The young men are framed by the backdrop of a blue curtain embossed with NCAA in large white lettering.

Reporter: Malcolm, You've previously said that you only chose college because of the NBA's current rule of not allowing players to enter the league until a year after their high school class graduates. As I recall, you even referred to it once as "being held hostage." But now that you've spent a season at Michigan State, have you grown from the college experience? And will you be back next year, or will this truly be a "one and done" situation for you?

Malcolm: I basically came here a grown man, with all I'd seen and been through over losing my sister. No school is going to teach me more than that. I guess a year out of the projects helped to keep me alive. But my parents still live there. So my plan is to go pro as quick as I can, enter the NBA draft and cash that fat paycheck for me and my family.

Second Reporter: Mr. McBride, when people hear you talk about the money, should they be turned off? I suppose what I'm really asking is, do you have any respect for the term student/athlete or are you and other "one and done" players just using the college system to eventually line your own pockets?

Malcolm: To tell you the truth, I think the system is using me to make money. I play here for free. I don't get a nickel. My parents even had to pay for their own hotel room in New Orleans. And there's always some NCAA investigator wanting to make sure that anybody looking to be my agent one day didn't slip them 50 bucks for gas money to drive here. But I heard that the NCAA makes something like $700-million on this tournament, and that my school could make $15-mil. I know part of that number's off my back, my sweat. That's like slavery. I could blow out my knee on any play and lose my career that's coming. Then I'd be left with nothing.

Malcolm's teammates on either side of him are looking extremely uncomfortable.

Third Reporter: You don't think that free tuition and board at a major college is worth something?

Malcolm: No, it's not. That's like McDonalds giving you a free hamburger because you work there. Big deal. They had the patties, buns, and pickles ready to sell anyway. The professors and the school buildings are already there, right? What does it cost them to add one more student into the mix–nothing? But how much money do I bring in? At least at Mickey-D's they pay you minimum wage. Here, they lean on that student/athlete stuff to stiff you, and keep you poor. They want you hungry, so you'll play harder and put on a better show. They use the NBA as your Kids' Meal toy to get you in the front door.

Third Reporter: So wouldn't everyone involved have been better off, and you less abused, if you'd have spent the year playing professional ball overseas? You'd have gotten paid for your work there, right?

Malcolm: I don't see why I should be forced to leave my own country to earn a decent living. Because I not 19 yet? That's age discrimination. I can vote. I can join the US army. But I can't play pro ball. Why? Because NBA owners wasted hundreds of millions on too many high school kids who couldn't cut it in the pros before? That's not me. Maybe I should go to work with my father in the Detroit auto plants for a year. Oh, that's right I can't, because him and lots of other people got laid off from the assembly line. So that's two jobs I can't have.

First Reporter: Malcolm, just to follow up, obviously you've passed your first semester of classes at Michigan State, or you wouldn't be eligible to continue playing. But there have been reports that you've stopped going to class completely during your second semester, in anticipation of leaving school for the pros. Is that's true, do you feel like you're manipulating the system?

Malcolm: I had to take at least six credits in September and I did–passed them all. It doesn't matter if it was ballroom dancing or basketball 101. I passed. It's like the second time I took the SAT, and scored so much higher. Nobody believed it. And I had to take it a third time to prove I had some natural smarts. Well, I really can't remember about this semester. It's been too much basketball and travel for my school (in a sarcastic tone). So I'll have to wait for grades in a couple of months to find out, just like you. For the second part of that question, it's like what my father always says about living in the projects, about being trapped there–no one can manipulate the system who didn't invent it.

First Reporter: Malcolm, there have been whispers that you may come under NCAA investigation for receiving some type of improper benefits. Do you know anything about that?

Malcolm: All I can tell you is I've got no wheels, no watch, no rings (looking down at his bare hands and fingers), and no money in the bank. Ask anyone who knows me, anyone who sees me walking around campus. People who are jealous of me are always going to be serving up that Haterade. So as far as I'm concerned those rumors come under the heading of Child, Please.

Third Reporter: US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has proposed that schools which don't graduate at least 40% of their scholarship basketball players be banned from playing in this tournament. How do you feel about lowering your school's graduation rate by leaving early, Malcolm? What if your teammates and school pay the price for that, being banned from a future tournament?

Malcolm: I don't care about none of that. I'm looking after number one–myself. I've seen what happens in this world when you don't, when you put other people first. That's why I wear 11 on my uniform. There are two number ones in a row, to always remind me, in case I forget. I pass the rock to my teammates when they're open. That's it. Nobody can ask any more from me. And don't.

(Cutting back to the studio announcer)

Announcer: Within an hour of Malcolm McBride's comments, the Michigan State Athletic Department issued this statement. (Statement appears on screen as announcer reads it) "We whole heartedly believe in amateurism and the ideal of the student/athlete. Our scholarship athletes abide by the rules of the NCAA, and make great personal sacrifices to compete on the athletic field while maintaining their primary role as students at Michigan State." (Cut back to announcer) Michigan State coach Eddie Barker, who has been battling laryngitis throughout the tournament, has yet to comment.

 
Final Four



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