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Here’s to Kansas

Posted by Gary Dzen, Boston.com Staff  March 30, 2011 12:34 PM

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So who’s still standing in their NCAA pool? I can’t let you in on who’s ahead in our locker room, but I was doing pretty well up until my alma mater let me down. I was crushed when the Jayhawks lost to VCU last week. Not only did it kill my bracket, but I also just couldn’t believe it. I gotta give it to the Rams though, they’ve been playing amazing ball. They’ve got heart, and Coach Smart is…well…smart.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that I was rootin’ for Kansas all the way, and I was pretty excited because the Jayhawks killed it against Illinois and Richmond. I thought it was smooth sailing to the Final Four -- but look what happened! It’s been a crazy tourney this year, but real exciting to watch.

I give KU props, though. They came a long way and outlasted a bunch of other top squads in the tournament like Louisville and Duke. Kansas is always in it and certainly had a good chance this year. I pick them every year to win it because that there’s my alma mater, and I gotta stay true to my roots. But this year they realistically had a great shot at winning it all. They’re quick and well-coached. I like the way they play. I had them up against North Carolina in my final. Gotta give some love to Roy Williams.

But man, another former coach also just about sunk my whole bracket this year. I mean, Rick Pitino really let me down when Louisville lost in the first round -- just about ruined that whole side of my bracket. I had the Cardinals going to the Elite 8! Come on now Coach P., after all those laps I ran for you? Least you could’ve done is get to the Sweet 16 -- but I can’t hate. L’Ville is a strong squad and they don’t call it March Madness for nothing.

Anyway, people ask me if I miss college around this time of year. It’s definitely a special experience being part of the tournament, especially when you go to a school that has the history and tradition Kansas does. I always enjoy this time of year; it’s one of the biggest tournaments in all the world. It was always a fun when I was at Kansas, everybody getting so excited, dressed in blue, watchin’ us on TV. It was unforgettable – and I think it prepared me a little for what the NBA is like.

But when I was at KU, things were different. Not many guys went straight to the pros so early. Most of us stayed for three or four years before going on to the big time. That’s a big difference from today. Now, I can’t blame the guys for goin’ to the league when they get the chance, but a couple years in college definitely gives you the added preparation you need and gives your body the time to grow so you can withstand the long NBA season.

March always makes me think about what it was like when I was a Jayhawk, all the great rivalries. I remember playin’ against Tyronn Lue a lot when he was at Nebraska. That was fun, and then we both ended up playin here in Boston - he even came to my Truth Strikes Again at Foxwoods back in December. We’ve stayed close, which is cool, but I’m definitely not rootin’ for his Huskers any time soon. College rivalries are classic. And what’s cool in college is the rivalries are all about the teams and uniforms vs. individual players. Of course there’s Duke-North Carolina, but I remember the KU -- K-State games. Those in-state tilts were always huge, and it was no different in Kansas. We did a lot of prep for those, and us vs. Missouri was another strong one. Hate to say it, but I never did win a game in Missouri in my time at Kansas. Still gets under my skin. Can you tell?

So even though my bracket didn’t pan out, I’m still proud of Kansas for making it as far as they did. Coach and the guys had a great season -- I know what they’re goin’ through, but you move on and put all your focus into next year. It’s tough because in tournaments like this, no matter how far you make it, only one team wins it all.

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Paul Pierce is the captain of the Boston Celtics. Pierce has spent his entire career with the Celtics since being drafted in 1998 out of Kansas, and led them to their 17th NBA Championship in 2008, when he was the NBA Finals MVP. More »

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