-- Matt Crenshaw is torn. As a 26-year-old father, he wants to be at home and help take care of his 5-year-old son, Michael, and 4-year-old daughter, Mikayla. But after spending six years in the U.S. Navy, he also feels he should be in the Middle East with the fellow servicemen he calls his "brothers and sisters."

On Friday afternoon, Crenshaw will be on a basketball court, the hero for perhaps the best Cinderella story of this year's NCAA tournament. If Crenshaw had his way, he and his teammates at IUPUI -- short for the commuter school that is Indiana University-Purdue University of Indianapolis -- would not be here to play top-seeded Kentucky. Crenshaw, who was stationed in Washington for three years and was briefly deployed to Egypt, disagrees with the NCAA's decision to go ahead with games as scheduled despite the war in Iraq.

"Basketball is not everything; sports are not everything," Crenshaw said. "I know there is a lot tied into it as far as money, millions of dollars. But lives are worth more than money."

The chance to play the Wildcats, who own a 23-game winning streak, is "from a player's perspective, the chance of a lifetime," according to Crenshaw's teammate, Josh Murray. Crenshaw's friends still in the military send him e-mail and tell him not to worry, to "go out and have a good time like it wasn't going on," he said.

Before the team boarded its bus to leave campus Wednesday, Crenshaw was speaking to his teammates about the opportunity at hand before breaking down in tears. At dinner that night, after learning that the military action had begun, Crenshaw was watching as much television as possible to try to stay informed.

"I used to watch 'SportsCenter,' " he said. "Lately, it's been CNN.

"You really can't focus on basketball too much when you see what is going on in the world."

Crenshaw, who was angered this season when he saw Manhattanville (N.Y.) College women's basketball player Toni Smith turn away from the American flag during the national anthem, said he often tries to explain the situation to his teammates.

"We have to do what we have to do because of the possibility of a future threat," Crenshaw said. "From a military perspective, they're doing their jobs. Nobody wants to go to war, but they're doing their job, protecting our country."

Crenshaw grew up in Charlottesville, then spent his first three years of high school in Killeen, Tex., after his stepfather, who was in the army, was assigned to a base there. The family then moved back to Charlottesville and Crenshaw graduated from Western Albemarle High School, where he played football and basketball.

Some of the colleges recruiting Crenshaw wanted him to attend prep school, but those plans fell through and soon Crenshaw began his military career.

"I didn't want to sit at home," he said. "I wanted to do something. So I said, 'Let's enlist in the Navy.' "

He was stationed at Cheatham Annex in Williamsburg, and just missed being sent to Kuwait in 1995. On a Friday evening, he went home to see his family near Charlottesville. The next morning, about 30 of his fellow sailors were deployed. Crenshaw's name was on the list of those supposed to ship out, but he could not be located in time to deploy.

This season, as the oldest player in Division I basketball, Crenshaw delivered one of the season's most memorable shots, a pull-up 18-footer from the right side with one second left that lifted IUPUI to a 66-64 upset of Valparaiso in the Mid-Continent Conference tournament championship game.

"My first NCAA tournament, I thought it would be a completely different situation," said Hunter, who said he agrees with Crenshaw that this weekend's games should have been postponed. "But with the war, I don't know if I can enjoy it like I want to."

IUPUI Coach Ron Hunter, left, shares a laugh with former NBA player Ron Harper.