Get your brackets ready. This week marks the start of March Madness, the NCAA championship basketball tournaments. (Yes, that's tournaments plural.) While there may be lots to interrogate about about the institution of college basketball--poor graduation rates, unpaid players, anyone?--you can't say that this month-long celebration of men's and women's hoops isn't inspiring to watch. From the Cinderella teams that come out of nowhere, to the future NBA and WNBA stars shining on collegiate courts, there's a lot to be excited about. On the way to the Final Four, here are five things for you to consider:
1. It's a family affair. If you grew up a basketball fan in the '90s, you'll immediately recognize the surnames of some of the top players in this year's men's championship. Michigan Wolverines guards Tim Hardaway Jr. and Glenn Robinson III are both the sons of retired NBA stars. UC Davis's Corey Hawkins's dad is former NBA guard Hershey. Duke Blue Devils senior Seth Curry is the little brother of Golden State Warrior Stephen and their dad, Dell, was a Charlotte Hornets sharp shooter. Detroit Titan Juwan Howard Jr.'s dad was a member of the Michigan "Fab Five." And don't forget the Niagara Purple Eagles' Antoine Mason, son of NBA all-star Anthony.
2. There is a player who has blocked more shots than Brittney. At 6-foot-8, Baylor University center Brittney Griner dominates the game with her dunks, 50-point games and shot blocks. Lots of blocks. In fact, with 736 under her belt, this senior holds the current record among women and men in the NCAA. But as it turns out, Griner isn't the first. Back in the 1970s, Old Dominion's Anne Donovan averaged almost six blocks per game and achieved a career record of 801. So why isn't this 6-foot-8-inch center in the history books? Because she played for the now-defunct Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW). "It's so funny. Every time they post [Griner's] shot-block record I get a lot of phone calls," Donovan told the Chicago Sun Times. "The AIAW is a whole lot different than the NCAA."
Baylor's Brittney Griner does this a lot. (Photo: Aaron Ontiveroz/Denver Post)
3. Adidas is changing the look of the game. Literally. You see those uniforms below? You don't like 'em? Too bad. Adidas, one of the biggest sports apparel companies in the world, has been making some bold design moves lately and major teams are responding. Both Michigan and North Carolina State have already donned tone-on-tone uniforms this season. The sports giant is also unveiling sleeved, animal-striped unis soon. Cincinnati, Kansas, Notre Dame, Baylor, UCLA and Louisville fans, here's a sneak peek:
4. Sexuality isn't always such a taboo in college sports. A few years ago, the women's basketball program at University of California, Berkeley, did something that few teams would: It actively courted queer fans and their families. With an assist from San Francisco-based Campus Pride, the team held its first pride day in 2009. They set up a festival-like atmosphere outside of the gym and formally thanked LGBT fans on the scoreboard during that day's game. Fast forward to 2013 and Cal is ranked No. 6 in the nation and it's one of the top seeds out in the West. The team's star senior guard, Layshia Clarendon, is a committed member of her school's Gay Straight Alliance and a national Athlete Ally. Go Bears.
UC Berkeley's Layshia Clarendon (Photo: San Francisco Chronicle)
5. March Madness is big business. This last point isn't exactly news, but it's worth repeating: March Madness is a monster. This 75-year-old college-level tournament ranks right up there with the Super Bowl in the amount of revenue it generates. From TV ads to fans betting on brackets, the NCAA brings in more than $770 million each year. Apparently, good fun just isn't cheap.
Butler University fans share an important message. (Photo: Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)