Michigan's Fab Five was probably the only group of players that could have overshadowed the UNLV squad from a few years before. It was the most hyped recruiting class ever and they had an impact on the court and off.
Amazingly for a bunch of 18 and 19-year olds, they even had an impact on pop culture. Kids everywhere started wearing baggy shorts and black socks.
As big as they were, though, they were still kids at heart. In the ESPN documentary "The Fab Five", it was seen that Coach Steve Fisher found an interesting way to motivate them for their 1992 tournament run
Their opening opponent was Temple, and one of their most famous alums is the great Bill Cosby.
Bill Cosby faxed Fisher a letter expressing his excitement for the game. Fisher added a fictitious paragraph stating that if the Wolverines won and reached the Final Four, Cosby would have them appear on the famed "Cosby Show".
Michigan went on to break Temple and Cosby's hearts, the on to beat every team on their way to Minneapolis and the Final Four. As they entered the locker room, this group of freshmen, showing that these really are just kids, had one thing on their minds.
"Cosby show! Cosby show! We're gonna be on the Cosby show!"
Fisher ultimately had to break the bad news, there would be no Cosby Show. They shocked the world and reached the Final Four as freshmen, but that is what they seemed most excited about. We can't ever forget that these are just kids we're watching.
"Sweetness" could capture the imagination of any team.
The 1989-1991 UNLV Runnin' Rebels were one of the best and most iconic college basketball teams of the past 30 years. Larry Johnson, Greg Anthony, Stacey Augmon, Anderson Hunt and David Butler. Coached by Jerry Tarkanian. They were a show every night.
Playing in Las Vegas, the Thomas & Mack Center was on fire every night. They were viewed almost as a pro team, as celebrities and NBA players would routinely attend their games.
The Rebels just thrashed everyone and everything that got in their way. They had no respect for anyone in front of them, until the night of the 1990 national championship game against Duke.
Prior to taking the court, someone even bigger than them decided to pay them a visit. It was none other than Walter Payton. The leading NFL rusher of all-time at that point. He was a fan and when he spoke, they stood at attention.
"You think you'll get back there some day," Payton said in a room so silent, you could hear the nervous heartbeats. "But maybe you won't, so don't let this opportunity pass you by. Play to win."
All the Rebels did was go out and destroy the Blue Devils 103-73. It was the largest margin of victory for a championship game in college basketball history.
Smart may be the best motivator in the game today.
Shaka Smart motivated the lowly No. 11 seed Virginia Commonwealth Rams not on just one or two upset victories, but all the way to the 2011 Final Four.
Some of the motivation came from his actions and on-court coaching, but a lot of it came from how he handled them in the locker room. This isn't just one great locker room moment, but a whole tournament's worth.
Smart's team was derided by the ESPN analysts for not deserving a selection. So Smart pushed his team to prove the doubters wrong. After beating Purdue to reach the Sweet 16, he inspired the "Eat Crow, Baby!" campaign, a dig at Dick Vitale.
According to Sports Illustrated's Luke Winn, here was his address to his team, with their response of "Swag" after their Sweet 16 win over Florida State:
“We’re in the Elite Eight.”
“We beat the Pac-10.”
“The Big East.”
“The Big Ten.”
“And the ACC.”
“Now, we get to play the only No. 1 seed left in the whole tournament, from the Big 12. "Guys, are we done?”
Before their improbably win over No. 1 Kansas, CBS gave viewers a seat in the locker room. He told his team:
"The opportunity in front of us today is this: 40 minutes. It's about 70 possessions on offense, 70 possessions on defense. Let's make every single one of them count. Today, we go after them, we run on them, and we lock them up. And today, we're punching our ticket to the Final Four. Let's go! Let's go!"
Smart then watched his team deliver one more time.
Williams laid the foundation for a champion in the locker room.
In 2009, Roy Williams was coaching the prohibitive national championship favorite. The Tar Heels had four returning starters from a Final Four team the previous season.
After starting 13-0 out of conference, North Carolina hit a couple bumps in the road. They dropped their opening two ACC games, dropped to 14-2 and sixth in the polls.
After the second loss at Wake Forest, Roy Williams addressed the team along with his assistant, he is how he recounts the meeting:
"Everybody jumped off the ship," he said. Williams used the second of those two losses, at Wake Forest, as a private rallying cry that he did not make public until the wee hours of Tuesday morning.
In the locker room at Wake, Williams asked assistant coach Steve Robinson how their 1990-91 Kansas team began league play. Robinson said the Jayhawks started 0-2.
Williams asked Robinson where that team finished the season. Robinson said it played in the national championship game against Duke.
"I told my team that in the locker room and I told them to keep it to themselves," Williams said. "If they would do what we asked them to do, we'd have a chance to be there at the end."
Carolina went on to win their next 10 games and 13-of-14 to end their ACC season. They ultimately went on to win a national championship, on a course that was set in a visiting locker room in Winston-Salem.
Massimino was intense but knew how to settle his players.
Rollie Massimino is a Philadelphia legend. A quirky, charismatic and intense Italian-American basketball coach who just fit with the fabric of the area.
He was incredibly successful with Villanova, but is remembered for one season more than the rest of his career combined. That would be 1985, the year they pulled off an unthinkable upset of Georgetown to win a national title.
Most people remember the upset, but forget the other powerhouses they beat on the way to that game. In the Elite Eight, Villanova trailed North Carolina 22-17 at halftime. It was a tense environment and, according to Sports Illustrated's Tim Layden, Massimino said only this to his troops:
"You know what I'd like right now? A big bowl of spags, with clam sauce. Hey, guys, just go out and play."
The room broke into laughter. On the way out of the room, Reverend John Stack pulled Rollie aside and told him, "Best [expletive] halftime speech I've ever heard."
The Wildcats went on to an improbable 39-22 second half run, beating the vaunted Tar Heels 56-44 and advancing to the Final Four.
Jalen, Juwan and Chris wanted to star alongside the Cos.
Michigan's Fab Five was possibly the only group that could have come along and made people forget the UNLV team from a few seasons before.
They were the most hyped recruiting class ever and they left an indelible mark on college basketball. Kids everywhere were wearing black socks and baggy shorts and they were the talk of the sports world.
They took the sport by storm and coach Steve Fisher found an interesting way to keep them motivated for their first NCAA Tournament. Their first round opponent was Temple. One of Temple's most famous alums is Bill Cosby.
According to the ESPN documentary 'Fab Five', Cosby faxed a letter to Fisher expressing his excitement for the game and his respect for the Wolverines. Fisher, though, added a paragraph of his own.
Fisher told the team that if they beat Temple and reached the Final Four, Cosby would have them appear on the legendary 'Cosby Show'. Michigan broke both Temple's and Cosby's hearts and fought their way to Minneapolis and the Final Four.
When they reached the locker room all they would say was, "Cosby Show! Cosby Show! We're gonna be on the Cosby Show!"
Unfortunately Fisher had to break the news that there would be no appearance, but as just 18 and 19-year old freshmen, they showed that these are just kids we are watching.
Green became the Spartans' leader at the end of his freshman season.
In the 2009 Final Four, Michigan State played in front of a fired up local crowd at Ford Field in Detroit. They uplifted an entire community with their run to the final game.
Unfortunately they came up short, falling to North Carolina 89-72 in a game that wasn't as competitive as the score sounds. Coach Tom Izzo was addressing the team when he was interrupted by Draymond Green, who was then a freshman.
Green implored his team to remember their history. He recounted what he said to his teammates:
"I told everyone that North Carolina (in 2008) made it to the Final Four and they got blown out just like we did against them," Green says. "They came back and set a goal to win a national championship and they did. We were going to set our goal to come back and win a national championship."
They haven't won a championship since, but that marked the coming of age of a player who is perhaps the best leader in college basketball today. If any one player deserves a championship in 2012 it is the senior, Draymond Green.
Coach K showed nothing but grace and humility in reaching a legend.
Mike Krzyzewski is clearly one of the most legendary figured in the history of college basketball. He is the winningest coach in history and he's won four national championships and reached 11 Final Fours.
He also has 13 ACC Tournament championships. His last one was in 2011, on the same day he tied Dean Smith for the most in conference history. On a historic day individually he spread the recognition to his players.
Here is this man that is bigger than the game itself. He will be remembered forever and he is telling his players that this moment is just as much about them, that he is proud and honored to be sharing in their moment.
If you don't like Duke you usually hate them, Coach K included. But on this day, Krzyzewski showed that he is a man of class and dignity and more than anything, he loves the players he coaches and no matter how much his legend grows, he will never view himself above them.
Not many basketball coaches were as inspirational as Valvano.
Jim Valvano gave a speech at the 1993 ESPY Awards. Perhaps you've heard of it. Within that speech, he recounted the very first locker room speech he ever gave as the Rutgers freshman coach:
"And you know when I think about getting up and giving a speech, I can't help it -- I have to remember the first speech I ever gave.
I was coaching at Rutgers University, that was my first job -- oh, that's wonderful [reaction to applause] -- and I was the freshman coach. That's when freshmen played on freshman teams. And I was so fired up about my first job. I see Lou Holtz, Coach Holtz here. What was it like, the very first job you had, right? The very first time you stood in the locker room to give a pep talk. That's a special place, the locker room, for a coach to give a talk. So my idol as a coach was Vince Lombardi, and I read this book called Commitment To Excellence by Vince Lombardi. And in the book, Lombardi talked about the fist time he spoke before his Green Bay Packer team in the locker room -- they were perennial losers. And I'm reading this and Lombardi said he was thinking should it be a long talk? A short talk? But he wanted it to be emotional, so it would be brief.
And here's what he did. Normally you get in the locker room, I don't know, twenty-five minutes, a half hour before the team takes the field; you do your little X's and 0's, and then you give the great Knute Rockne talk. We all do. Speech number eight-four. You pull them right out, you get ready, get your squad ready. Well, this is the first one I ever gave. And I read this thing -- Lombardi, what he said was he didn't go in. He waited. His team was wondering: Where is he? Where is this great coach? He's not there. Ten minutes -- he's still not there. Three minutes before they could take the field Lombardi comes in, bangs the door open, and I think you all remember what great presence he had, alright, great presence. He walked in and he just walked back and forth, like this, just walked, staring at the players. And he said, "All eyes on me." And I'm reading this in this book. I'm getting this picture of Lombardi before his first game and he said "Gentlemen, we will be successful this year, if you can focus on three things, and three things only: Your family, your religion, and the Green Bay Packers." And he...like that...And they knocked the walls down and the rest was history. I said, that's beautiful. I'm going to do that. Your family, your religion, and Rutgers basketball.
That's it. I had it. Listen, I'm twenty-one years old. The kids I'm coaching are nineteen, alright? And I'm going to be the greatest coach in the world, the next Lombardi. And...I'm practicing outside of the locker room and the managers tell me "you got to go in." "Not yet, not yet"... family, religion, Rutgers Basketball. All eyes on me. I got it, I got it. Then finally he said, "three minutes," and I said "fine." True story. I go to knock the doors open just like Lombardi. Boom! They didn't open. I almost broke my arm. I was like...Now I was down, the players were looking. Help the coach out, help him out. And now I did like Lombardi, I walked back and forth, and I was going like that with my arm getting the feeling back in it. Finally I said, "Gentlemen, all eyes on me." These kids wanted to play, they're nineteen. "Let's go," I said. "Gentlemen, we'll be successful this year if you can focus on three things, and three things only: Your family, your religion, and the Green Bay Packers," I told them. I did that. I remember that. I remember...where I came from."
That may have been a lot to read, but in all honesty it's worth it. Jimmy V turned out to be one of the most inspirational sports figures in our lifetime and that is where it all started.
Gathers was a galvanizing force that college basketball hasn't seen since.
Loyola Marymount isn't a college basketball hotbed and they don't have a rich history and tradition. What they do have is a magical and emotional season that is hard to forget if you lived through it.
In 1989-90 the Lions were led by two Philadelphia transfers, Hank Gathers and Bo Kimble. Gathers was the nation's leading scorer and rebounder the previous season and Kimble was one of the nation's best shooters.
They electrified crowds with their high-octane style of play and by lighting up scoreboards for 122 points per game. Tragically, due to a heart condition, Gathers collapsed and died on the court in the West Coast Conference Tournament.
They decided to finish their season and they entered the NCAA Tournament as a No. 11 seed. They managed upsets over New Mexico State and defending champ Michigan. Before their Sweet 16 game against Alabama someone wrote "FULFILL THE DREAM" on their locker room black board.
Leading just 22-21 at halftime, coach Paul Westhead told the team, "OK guys, we only need 104 more points to get to our average."
They went out and scrapped for a 62-60 victory and after the win, someone changed that saying on the black board to "FULFILLING THE DREAM". It wasn't a fiery speech and it didn't lead to a championship.
But it was a group of young men who used the loss of a friend and teammate as inspiration for one of the most unforgettable tournament runs in NCAA history.
Wooden's legacy will endure forever.
Prior to the very first practice John Wooden ever ran as UCLA's head coach he needed to take care of something. He sat on a bench in the locker room and taught his players how to properly put on their shoes and socks.
He would have them actually remove them, then instruct them on the proper way to do it. It sounds ridiculous, but this is what Wooden did. Once the lesson was complete, Wooden would turn to leave the locker room.
With that he would let his players know:
'That's your first lesson. You see, if there are wrinkles in your socks or your shoes aren't tied properly, you will develop blisters. With blisters, you'll miss practice. If you miss practice, you don't play. And if you don't play, we cannot win. If you want to win championships, you must take care of the smallest of details."
Considering 10 of Wooden's seasons ended with a national championship, he started them properly.
Again, not the most fiery or passionate moment in a locker room, but with Wooden's legend and track record, his discipline and unparalleled attention to detail carried his program to heights not seen before or since. That moment would happen at the start of every season at UCLA and it proved to be highly successful.