From the time I was 11 years old, the North Carolina Tarheels have been my favorite college basketball team.
Now most people from New Jersey that follow college basketball like Seton Hall, Rutgers, and St. John's, but not North Carolina.
I always liked Michael Jordan growing up, and since he went to North Carolina that was enough of a reason for me to like the Tarheels. At the time that I really started getting into college basketball between sixth and seventh grade, Vince Carter and Derrick Coda were playing for the Tarheels, which made them a really exciting team to watch.
My dad played basketball growing up, and if he didn't have such a strong desire to become a doctor, he could've been a really great basketball player.
He always liked college basketball, and would tell me stories about Pistol Pete Maravich from back in the 70's. For years, I would watch my dad take out his NCAA bracket from the New York Times and make his picks.
He was never in any big pool or bet tons of money on the games, but he enjoyed making picks because of how much he loves basketball.
A few years ago, I decided to get involved in the bracket. I had my dad explain to me how they work, I made a copy of the bracket and we sat and made our selections together.
For the duration of the tournament, we would talk about our picks to see who was doing better in the tournament, or about any of the big upsets. I almost always picked North Carolina to go all the way, and he would tease me for it if they didn't make it that far saying he still knew more about basketball.
Last year took the cake. We made our selections together, and I was pulling ahead of him with my picks for most of the tournament. Until the Final Four I had him beat. We did pick the same teams for the Final Four (Kansas, Memphis, UCLA, and North Carolina), but I had Kansas over UCLA and he had UCLA, so I won that part.
He had Memphis over North Carolina so I lost that part.
For the final, I said Memphis would beat Kansas, and my dad said Kansas was gonna win it all. I was seconds away from winning that one, until Mario Chalmers hit that shot at the buzzer to send the game into over time, and Memphis crumbled.
It was the most fun I had watching the tournament, because my dad and I were so involved in it together. I always enjoy March Madness because you never know what can happen, but I enjoy it more now because it's something I get to do with my dad.
So last night, we sat with our brackets and pencils, and I had to smile to myself. Even though there's nothing overly special about penciling in teams' names, I still look forward to it every year. For me, the NCAA tournament represents something more than the Sweet 16 or the Final Four.
March Madness is a time I get to share with my dad, the person that first explained the game of basketball to me.
The tournament is looking to be exciting this year, and for the first time ever, my dad and I not only have the same teams for the Final Four (Louisville, Pitt, North Carolina, and Connecticut), but we both picked North Carolina for the National Champion.
Maybe my pick is starting to rub off on him, and he finally realizes they are as great as I've been saying for so long. Time will tell, but either way the tradition is what I love most of all.