Four Key Faces of the Final Four - SolidRumor.com

Four Key Faces of the Final Four

 Four Key Faces of the Final Four

The joy of the NCAA Tournament, and the Final Four specifically, is that it works as both a spotlight on anonymous underdogs you’ve never heard of (and will never think about again) and an introduction to stars who are about to be famous for the rest of their, and your, lives. College basketball is a sport played by future NBA legends right alongside dudes who are going to be selling insurance in about three years. It’s a grand stage for every personality type. It’s a place, for a few nights, to be one of the most famous people in sports.

We have now reached the Final Four of the men’s basketball tournament, and considering the pounding the NCAA is taking in front of the Supreme Court this week, the organization surely cannot wait to start talking about the games again—not that it’ll help; that cartel is going down, and going down hard. Who knows, this may even turn out to be one of the last gasps the flailing NCAA has left. So let’s take a look at the major figures you need to know from each of the Final Four teams. These are the names that will matter … even if, in a week, you never think about some of them again.

Jalen Suggs, guard for Gonzaga. Gonzaga is the signature team of this tournament, and they have something for everyone. They’ve got two headband-wearing, logger-facial-hair-sporting rec-league-looking dudes (who are both going to be in the NBA someday) in Corey Kispert and Drew Timme. They have an NBA lottery pick in Suggs, the sort of top-tier marquee superstar the Final Four hasn’t had since Anthony Davis in 2012. And they are going after the most cherished achievement in college basketball, an undefeated regular season that ends in a national championship, something that has not been done since Bob Knight’s Indiana team in 1976. (Anything that erases that tyrant from the record books would be an unequivocal good thing.) They have been absolutely dominant this entire tournament, and this entire season: They only won one game this year by less than double digits, and they waltzed to the Final Four.

Of everyone in this Final Four, it’s possible the only one whose name we’ll know in 20 years is Suggs. He plays with a style that’s a perfect fit for the current NBA; top NBA draftnik Sam Vecenie calls him “the total package,” a driving, slashing scorer who can also run an offense and shoot. Hopefully your favorite NBA team is currently losing enough to draft him.

Scott Drew, head coach of Baylor. Scott Drew is one of the Valparaiso Drews, the son of longtime coach Valpo coach Homer Drew and the brother of Bryce Drew, the guy who hit one of the craziest shots in NCAA Tournament history:\

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Scott Drew didn’t play college basketball at all, but when his dad retired in 2002, he took over coaching Valparaiso for one season before being offered what was certainly the worst job in major college hoops: Baylor. How bad was the Baylor job? Well, the year before, one player was murdered by another player, and the team’s coach, Dave Bliss, told his team to lie and say the deceased player was a drug dealer so that Bliss’s illicit payments to him and his family would not be uncovered. Drew was the only coach who wanted anything to do with that mess, and the team was terrible for four straight seasons. (There were, however, no murders.)

Since then, Drew has turned Baylor into one of the powerhouses of college basketball, with the consensus second-best team all season, led by two future NBA players in Jared Butler and Davion Mitchel, and the only real challenger left to Gonzaga’s undefeated record. This is the first Final Four for Baylor in 71 years—back when the tournament only had eight teams—and a vindication of everything Drew, an earnest, almost cornpoke coach who is easy to make fun of but hard to root against, has been working on for nearly two decades. And all he had to do was wait for a coach to get fired for trying to frame his dead player for being a drug dealer, and then take his job.

Johnny Juzang, guard for UCLA. What a name, right? Johnny Juzang. Broadcasters wait their entire lives to scream things like, “Johnny Juzang from way downtown!” Juzang was a high-school star who went to Kentucky before transferring to UCLA. (He grew up in Los Angeles.) His mother is Vietnamese—his older brother played for Harvard and in the Vietnamese Basketball Association—and his father is Creole, and he is the sort of electric, dynamic player that the NCAA Tournament lives for. He’s not someone who has much chance of making it in the pros, but he is someone who can go crazy in the right tournament game, at the right time, and become a crossover star.

He also has something CBS may be even more excited about: A fashion model girlfriend, Emma Smith, who attends every game and is basically a walking and talking sideline reaction shot. (The New York Post is already writing about her.) UCLA is the biggest surprise team at this Final Four, but they’re still arguably the most successful program in college basketball history. And they’re still in Los Angeles. UCLA, models, Juzang … it’s enough to make you forget this whole dumb tournament is happening in Indianapolis.

Kelvin Sampson, head coach of Houston. This is the second consecutive Final Four that will feature a coach who has been previously banned by the NCAA. Sampson was suspended for five years back in 2008 for violating NCAA rules on contacting potential recruits. (He was basically texting teenagers at the feverish pace of Matt Gaetz. The weirdest part is that the texting rules that got Sampson in such trouble back then no longer exist.)

When Sampson’s five years were up, he left the NBA, where’d been working as an assistant coach, and, much like Drew, took a job at the only place that would have him: Houston, a school with a rich basketball history (the Phi Slamma Jamma teams of Akeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler) that had been terrible for years. Sampson worked himself all the way back, and now Houston is in the Final Four for the first time since the Olajuwon days. This is exactly the sort of “redemption” story that CBS will attempt to make into an uplifting narrative, but it didn’t work with Auburn’s Bruce Pearl two years ago and we should make sure it doesn’t work now either. But hey, remember: If you break every NCAA rule, if there’s a time later on when you can make them money, they will happily take you back.

Will Leitch is a contributing editor at New York Magazine, national columnist for MLB, a writer for Medium and the founder of Deadspin. Subscribe to his free weekly newsletter and buy his upcoming novel “How Lucky,”out from Harper Books this May.

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