When basketball players get to the NBA, many things change. But one thing does not – their allegiance to their college.
While the Mavericks and other NBA teams have a growing number of international players with no university connections, many players get excited about this time of the year when the NCAA Tournament is set to begin.
The Mavericks have seven players whose schools made the Big Dance: Tim Hardaway Jr. and Trey Burke (Michigan), Devin Harris (Wisconsin), Jalen Brunson (Villanova), J.J. Barea (Northeastern), Justin Jackson (North Carolina) and Dorian Finney Smith (Florida).
And, of course, Rick Carlisle’s Virginia Cavaliers also made the tournament – as a No. 1 seed, no less.
All of them think their schools are headed to the Final Four, although they admittedly have different levels of confidence about that possibility.
For Jackson, he doesn’t have to crow about the Tar Heels. They are a No. 1 seed. It’ll be surprising if they aren’t playing deep into the tournament.
But others, like Finney-Smith and Brunson, know the odds are stacked against them.
“We’re small, but as long as we don’t go up against a really big team, I think we’ll be fine,” Finney-Smith said of his Gators. “I don’t think teams will want to see us, to be honest.”
Florida is a No. 10 seed and opens against seventh-seeded Nevada. If they get past Nevada, the Gators could meet up with No. 2 seed Michigan in the second round, which could make for some interesting chatter in the locker room with Hardaway and Burke being staunch Wolverines.
Meanwhile, no matter what, nobody can take away two NCAA titles from Brunson. He’s confident, sort of, about the defending champion: “We got a lot of new guys, but I’ll take us. I like our chances.”
Harris watched his beloved Wisconsin Badgers reach the championship game in 2015. They enter this tournament as a No. 5 seed and open against Oregon, which lost its best player, Bol Bol, early in the season.
Most of the players on the Mavericks that went to college have some experience about the tournament. One that does not is J.J. Barea, whose Northeastern team did not reach the tournament despite his stellar play during four seasons there.
“I’m happy for them,” Barea said. “I know they’ll play hard and if they get a few breaks, who knows?”
Northeastern is a No. 13 seed and is a trendy upset pick against No. 4 seeded Kansas.
Duke, of course, is the heavy favorite to win the title. But Carlisle’s Cavaliers come in as the top seed in the south region and No. 2 seed overall. He and assistant to the basketball staff Jenny Boucek, another Virginia product, no doubt will be cheering the Cavaliers.