MIKE WISE: NCAA Trip, Take Two for American Men's Basketball

There's no cheering in the press area unless you're Mike Wise and watching American University win its second straight Patriot League title. Video by Atkinson & Co.
By Mike Wise
Saturday, March 14, 2009

They didn't take enough pictures last time. They didn't pack the hand-held video cameras like they should have. That's what Derrick Mercer and Jordan Nichols were talking about a week ago, that if they ever made it back to the NCAA tournament the two American University seniors were going to enjoy the ride next time, revel in the moment, film their own history.

"That's right," Nichols said, after he had sprinted from the stands to hug relatives and friends, on the night AU experienced the most wonderful deja vu. "I just want to be in the moment now, remember everything."

A year ago, the coach wept for the pain of his past and the good fortune of his future. For an extremely emotional Jeff Jones in 2008, healing a lost job or relationship competed with the elation of again wearing a snipped net around his neck like a crown.


"It's a different kind of emotion," he said early yesterday evening, moments before the trophy presentation and net-cutting ceremonies began again at Bender Arena, amid flashbulbs, Mayor Adrian M. Fenty and famous alumni.

"Last year was a release -- of a lot of stuff good and bad. This year is just happy."

If any District hoophead would have told you a couple of years ago that the only local team to make consecutive NCAA tournament appearances the past two seasons would be American, he or she would have been laughed out of the Green Turtle in Laurel.

But here we are in mid-March, with John Thompson III contemplating how a team with the most heralded freshman center in America might not even receive an NIT bid, and Gary Williams still unsure of returning to the tournament after missing three of the past four.

If the Eagles had not repeated as Patriot League champs last night, the Washington area was in danger of not having a representative in the men's Division I basketball tournament for the first time since 1978.

Mercer, Nichols, the deadeye marksmanship of Garrison Carr and the tenacity of Brian Gilmore, Nick Hendra and their teammates -- really, the spirit of another amazingly loud crowd at Bender -- became the torch-carriers for the area as much as for the Patriot League.

The win over Holy Cross didn't have the gut-wrenching tension of last year's pulsating win over Colgate, when 40 years of nail-biting made for a very nervous final few seconds.

Every time AU got out of sync offensively yesterday, Carr seemed to be standing a few feet behind the arc, the ball nestling softly into his hands before he planted his feet, rose and released, sublime swish after sublime swish -- six three-pointers in all, and now 296 for his career.

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