Unlikely heroes rise, fuel title runs
by Nicole Auerbach, USA TODAY Sports
ATLANTA — About a year ago, an unknown 5-11 guard handed his boarding pass and identification to a security officer at an airport. Excited for a recruiting visit to a big Division I school, Spike Albrecht engaged in small talk about his trip.
The TSA officers didn’t believe what he was telling them.
“They asked to see his itinerary to make sure,” Michigan coach John Beilein said. “He showed them, ‘ Tim Hardaway Jr. is my host. I’m going.’”
Such is the life of an unheralded recruit who, thanks to a few twists of fate, became the backup point guard on a team competing for a national championship today. In Michigan’s win vs. Syracuse Saturday, Albrecht hit two three-pointers, as did reserve guard Caris LeVert, leading the 21-point bench scoring burst that led the Wolverines to the title game.
In the other national semifinal, the Louisville bench scored 34, including 20 from Luke Hancock, a transfer from George Mason. Walk-on Tim Henderson, playing in Kevin Ware’s absence, also drilled a pair of threes to cut Wichita State’s lead to six and spark the Cardinals’ comeback.
In short, neither Michigan nor Louisville would be playing for a championship without their back-ups.
“It is that mystery of the young kid, the altar boy, the choir boy — like Spike — the 18-year-old kid that hasn’t played well coming in and making big baskets that makes this game so great,” Beilein said. “The pros are so much about stars; the college game is so much about the team. Seventy-five thousand people here … they wanted to be at an event where they could see the shining moments of Spike Albrecht, Caris LeVert.
“It’s incredible what the little guy has meant to college basketball.”
One star player – a Carmelo Anthony at Syracuse or Kemba Walker at Connecticut – can carry a team through the NCAA tournament. A handful of star players makes it easier, like Florida had in 2006 and 2007.
But here in Atlanta, at the 75th men’s Final Four, the stars are taking a backseat to the walk-ons and back-ups.
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Louisville guard Russ Smith can’t walk into a room … [For more on Louisville and Michigan's unlikely heroes rise, fuel title runs, click here.]