16 March Madness Heroes Whose Names You Probably Forgot
When you think of March Madness, what do you see? Is it your favorite team in the Final Four? Or maybe that same team losing in heartbreaking fashion to a team you hadn’t heard of just a few days prior? Do you see Mario Chalmers sending Kansas-Memphis to OT in 2008?
Maybe it’s Kemba Walker or Steph Curry taking the tournament by storm. Is it a dominant team like 2009 UNC, 2015 Kentucky or even throwing it way back, 1976 Indiana?
For me, it’s watching my alma mater, my beloved Butler Bulldogs, reach back-to-back Final Fours with countless upsets, buzzer beaters and unbelievable finishes along the way. Trey Burke’s shot against Kansas is also right up there among my fondest March Memories.
No matter what you think of, chances are you’ve got some great NCAA Tournament nostalgia floating around in your memory. I’m here to take you on a trip down memory lane, looking back at some iconic tournament moments over the last two decades, and I’m willing to bet you probably vividly remember a good chunk of them but had forgotten the names of the young men behind the magic.
While there are endless candidates for this list, I can’t cover ‘em all. So I hope these dozen names and videos can help to fill the void left by the cancelation of the 2020 tournament and hold you over until we are treated with the glorious return of March Madness in 2021, even if it’s unlike any tournament we’ve ever seen before — and hopefully the only one of its kind.
Brett Comer & Chase Fieler — FGCU, 2013
There’s no doubt you recall Florida Gulf Coast and “Dunk City.” The first, and so far, only 15-seed to reach the Sweet 16. (Shameless brag, I actually picked that in my bracket.) But do you remember any of those guys’ names? Sherwood Brown was the man dishing out all the dimes, but Brett Comer and Chase Fieler were the ones “dropping the anvil.” Let’s take a look back at what Reggie Miller called a “Kodak Moment.”
Ali Farokhmanesh — Northern Iowa, 2010
I’ll admit. This is a name I’ve never forgotten, and I wouldn’t be surprised if you haven’t either. How could you forget a name like Ali Farokhmanesh? I had Kansas as a surefire Final Four team in 2010, and I watched as he tore my bracket to pieces on a Saturday night. After draining five triples to beat UNLV in the first round, Farokhmanesh sunk four more — including one of the most iconic shots in recent tournament history — to lead the 9th-seeded Panthers past the No. 1 overall seed.
Oh, the audacity to take a transition trey with a one-point lead with under 40 seconds to play. Against the best team in the country, no less. He took a slight pause, but he knew that thing was going down and he let it rip.
Bradford Burgess — VCU, 2011
On Selection Sunday in 2011, many analysts and pundits ripped the selection committee for picking an 11-loss team out of the CAA to be a part of the inaugural First Four. The joke was on them, though, as 11th-seeded VCU easily beat USC and then romped its way to the Final Four with four straight upsets.
Leading the charge was Bradford Burgess, who averaged 17.5 points per game on 13-of-18 three-point shooting during the Rams’ wins over Georgetown, Purdue, Florida State and a loaded 1-seed in Kansas. That includes a 26-point outburst and overtime game-winning shot against the Seminoles in the Sweet 16. Right alongside Jamie Skeen, Joey Rodriguez, and their young coach, Shaka Smart, VCU captured the imagination of mid-majors everywhere, despite coming up short against fellow Cinderella squad Butler in the Final Four.
T.J. Sorrentine — Vermont, 2005
Two years after reaching the national title game, Jim Boeheim, Gerry McNamara and Hakeem Warrick were poised to make another run in the tournament. But it all went awry one night in New England. A night when a kid from Pawtucket took an astonishing 16 three-pointers. Though T.J. Sorrentine made just five of them, he hit an overtime dagger “from the parking lot,” giving the Catamounts a win and all of us basketball fans a legendary Gus Johnson call.
Darnell Archey — Butler, 2003
It was Gordon Hayward and Shelvin Mack who really put Butler on the map with brilliant back-to-back runs to the title game in 2010 and 2011. But do you remember who was the springboard for all the success at that little school in Indianapolis?
Two years after Thad Matta earned the Bulldogs their first win in the modern tournament era, Butler first stole the hearts of basketball fans everywhere when they reached the 2003 Sweet 16 as a 12-seed. The Dawgs knocked off Mississippi State in the first round, before sharpshooting their way past Louisville behind Darnell Archey’s lights-out performance. The senior hit 8 of 9 three-pointers, as the Dawgs went 14-for-22 on the day. Archey put the icing on the cake, coolly sinking a pair of free throws in the game’s final seconds.
Paul Jesperson — Northern Iowa, 2016
Speaking of UNI, it was six years later that another Panther hit a memorable shot. Let me set the scene. It was a late Friday night tip in Oklahoma City, where burnt orange-clad Texas fans swarmed the building. They were anticipating a first-round win and then a showdown with in-state rival Texas A&M on Sunday. The Longhorns had momentum on their side when they tied things up late in the game and looked destined for overtime redemption with just a couple ticks on the clock.
Enter Paul Jesperson, who took a dribble and a heave into March Madness immortality. Though the 11th-seeded Panthers would have an absolute meltdown in the final moments two days later against A&M, he delivered another iconic moment.
Spike Albrecht (Michigan) & Luke Hancock (Louisville), 2013
Unless you’re a Michigan or Louisville fan, you’ve probably completely forgotten about these two guys. But they put on quite the show in the 2013 title game. Albrecht was obviously a fairly well-known name for the Wolverines throughout the year, but he wasn’t a major factor in the program’s first Final Four run in two decades — not until the very end, at least. He averaged 3.8 PPG in under 10 minutes per game, but did go a perfect 5-for-5 from three-point range during Michigan’s march to the title game in Atlanta, when he lit it up against Louisville. He scored 17 points in the first half, helping Michigan build a 12-point lead shortly before halftime.
But the Wolverines know all too well that Spike’s outrageous performance just wasn’t enough, as Luke Hancock flat out took over. The junior transfer from George Mason singlehandedly got the Cards back in the game with four straight threes before halftime, ultimately finishing with 22 points on a perfect 5-for-5 from distance as he helped deliver Louisville its first title since 1986. Don’t be fooled by the NCAA record books — this game did, in fact, happen.
Sundiata Gaines — Georgia, 2008
I want you to dig way down deep in your memory banks for this one, because I know you’ll remember this story. Georgia entered the 2008 SEC Tournament with a 13-16 record and wasn’t on anyone’s radar ahead of conference championship week. They still weren’t even causing a stir after a first-round overtime win over Ole Miss. But just minutes before the Dawgs were scheduled to take the floor for their Friday night quarterfinal game against Kentucky, a tornado struck the Georgia Dome in downtown Atlanta, causing a panic as debris began falling from the ceiling, forcing the game to be postponed.
After SEC officials did a remarkable job to relocate the event to Georgia Tech’s campus, Gaines and UGA took the floor Saturday at noon. Gaines dropped 16 points and the Bulldogs knocked off the Wildcats in another overtime affair. Less than eight hours later, in a scene out of a midsummer AAU tournament, UGA took the floor again for a semifinal matchup against Mississippi State. On their most hated rivals’ court that night, Georgia improbably advanced to the SEC Tournament title game and on Sunday afternoon defied all odds and beat Arkansas to reach the Big Dance as a 14-seed. Though their unbelievable story came to an end against 3-seed Xavier, Gaines averaged 17.3 PPG during the SEC Tournament and was named the event’s MVP, living out an unforgettable story in the process.
P.S. Conference championship week is every bit a part of March Madness as the tournament itself. Just ask Kemba Walker.
R.J. Hunter — Georgia State, 2015
You ever do something so astonishing that you knocked your dad off his stool? R.J. Hunter did exactly that in the first round of the 2015 tournament when he drilled a deep three-pointer to knock off 3-seed Baylor. His dad, coach of the Panthers, had injured his foot during the team’s celebration after winning the Sun Belt tournament title and was forced to coach from a stool. His son’s shot knocked him right to the ground and GSU survived and advanced. My favorite part about this clip is the color analyst losing his mind that Georgia State wasn’t trying to attack the basket in the interest of time, only to watch Hunter drain an iconic longball.
Vee Sanford — Dayton, 2014
Dayton stole the show in 2014, marching to the Elite Eight as an 11-seed. The Flyers knocked off 3-seed Syracuse in the second round and fellow Cinderella 10th-seeded Stanford in the Sweet 16, before falling just short of the Final Four against Florida. But it was all made possible by Vee Sanford, who drove the lane and hit a game winner in the waning moments of the first-round matchup against Ohio State, effectively ending Aaron Craft’s career. Sanford didn’t play a huge role in the Flyers’ run, averaging just 6.5 PPG, but his shot will forever be remembered by Dayton fans.
Lamar Butler — George Mason, 2006
Long before VCU, Stanford and Loyola-Chicago were making deep runs as 11-seeds, it was George Mason that stole the show in 2006. Hailing from the CAA, the Patriots cracked the top 25 near the end of the regular season, yet remained well off the national radar heading into the tournament.
Once they got there, though, the Patriots ripped through Michigan State and North Carolina to reach the Sweet 16, where they knocked off 7-seed Wichita State. All eyes were on Mason and title hopeful 1-seed UConn in the Elite Eight and the Cinderella darlings pulled off the shocker. All five Patriot starters reached double figures, but it was Lamar Butler who knocked down 4-of-6 three-pointers and gathered the final rebound of the game before stepping up on the media table to soak it all in.
Hakim Warrick — Syracuse, 2003
This list has mostly been home to the underdogs and the Cinderella stories. And it’s been mostly about big shots and lots of scoring. But now it’s time for some love for defense and champions.
Everyone remembers 2003 as the year freshman Carmelo Anthony led Syracuse to a national championship, alongside sharpshooter Gerry McNamara. But after seeing an eight-point lead with under five minutes to play shrink down to a single possession in the final seconds, it was Hakim Warrick who stepped into the spotlight.
Despite missing a crucial pair of free throws that would have put the game on ice, Warrick went back down the floor and swatted what looked like a wide open corner three for Michael Lee, sealing the Orangemen and Jim Blenheim their first and only national title.
Jerrell Wright — LaSalle, 2013
You think the number 13 is unlucky? It wasn’t in ‘13 — unless you’re a Kansas State or Ole Miss fan. The LaSalle Pilots were bounced by Butler in the first round of the A-10 tournament and had to sweat things out until Selection Sunday, where they found out they were headed to the First Four in Dayton.
The euphoria of an 18-point halftime lead almost turned into a nightmare as the Explorers scuffled in the second half. But Jerrell Wright hit three free throws in the waning seconds of the first round to hold off Kansas State. LaSalle went on to bounce 12-seed Ole Miss and Marshall Henderson, before bowing out against Final Four-bound Wichita State.
[Still need to find a decent video, or I could go without one?]
Kris Jenkins — Villanova, 2016
Ok, you better not have forgotten this name. I just take any chance I can to watch Big Smoove hit the most iconic shot I’ve ever watched live.