I could not be happier for these kids. Penn State has been long known for its football program; basketball has just never even gotten close to that level. A few weeks back I was livid that our team didn't get an invite to the NCAA tournament. (We were robbed, end of story.) But now I'm glad that we didn't get in. With the way our team had been playing, I think we could have made a deep, Cinderella run, but the odds were against it.The NIT has gotten a lot of "junior varsity" ribbing in recent years because, frankly, you are only in it if you didn't get into the Big Dance. Does that mean, as the joke goes, that you are "#66"? Please. We beat Florida on the road (where they were 18-1 this year), Notre Dame (Big East) and Baylor (Big 12).
What does it mean if you got an invite to the Big Dance and got beat on day one? Are you going to hang that #4 seed one-and-done banner on your ceiling?
And that's not how I wanted these kids, particularly the three big seniors -- Cornley, Morrissey, and Pringle -- to go out. They came to a nothing program (Pringle was a junior transfer, but no pulling away cred for what he brought to the team) that suffered through repeated seasons were we couldn't even muster a .500 record. We didn't even SNIFF the NIT.Cornley himself played with a partially separated shoulder through most of the tournament, and garnered MVP honors. That kid has heart, and I can think of nothing better than to reward his and this team's effort with a NATIONAL tournament championship. (You couldn't have storybooked the seniors' performance better -- Pringle and Morrissey both had excellent games and Morrissey even literally bled to get the job done.)
There are 220 teams that couldn't even get an invite to the NIT. And you can't tell me that winning a 32-team invitational isn't an achievement. Hell, on the way, we even set a season record for wins. Previous to this, Penn State's biggest achievement was beating #2 North Carolina in 2001 to get to the NCAA Sweet Sixteen. (Also known as the greatest day of my life.) But this is a friggin' national championship. It is a banner. It is a t-shirt that I'll own. It's a praise-worthy career-ending crown for years of blood and sweat and tears that were largely unsung.The best encapsulation of what this has meant for the program is what Jamelle Cornley talked about toward the end of the below embedded highlight:
- "When I came here four years ago, I really wanted to make it a better place when I left... We had close to 30 buses come here and support us [tonight in Madison Square Garden]; when I first got here we couldn't get three buses to come across campus. So right now I'm just enjoying the moment."