Not trying to start a basketball thread here, but I greatly enjoyed watching UMBC beat UVA last night for reasons other than generic rooting for underdogs.
My son transferred there after his freshman year and stayed five years (sat out one year due to transfer rules, another year due to surgery, and obtained an NCAA waiver of the five-year clock). The year before he arrived, the baseball team won only 10 games. They were perennial cellar dwellers in the America East, usually the odd team out that didn't get invited to the conference tournament. They had never won a game at the America East tournament on the rare occasions they did slip in as a bottom seed.
While he was there, my son was part of a group of young men who turned the program around, achieving a 34-win season, reaching the conference tournament three times, and winning it all son's final year, allowing him and his classmates to end their careers at an NCAA regional.
Also while he was there, some of the other UMBC teams started building their reputations. The soccer team reached the NCAA national semifinal game a few years back, losing to UVA (so there was also some payback going on last night). And the basketball team started improving, finally bearing the fruit everyone saw last night.
They also upgraded their facilities, though baseball still lags behind soccer and basketball. (My son worked on the software for the ticket system for the new basketball arena.)
What impressed me most about our recruiting visit was what the coach said when he showed us their very humble locker room. The coach pointed to the dozen or so posters of alumni all-this or all-that players scattered about the room and said, "Every one of these players earned his degree, and only one of them made enough money from baseball not to need it. I know everyone comes here wanting to go pro, but if you come here, you will be expected to take care of business in the classroom."
On our way out to the car, my son said, "I know coaches are supposed to say stuff like that in front of the parents, but I think this guy actually means it." He did.
What impressed me most about my son's time there was how the coaches upheld their end of their bargain with my son. The first year he pitched for them, he had an excellent year, but the team was still bad so he had little to show for it in terms of wins and losses, though he was among the NCAA leaders in fewest walks per nine innings. The other years he pitched, he was less effective because of injuries. He went from being the number one starter his redshirt junior year to being a spot starter and occasional reliever his final year. Even so, the coaches stayed in his corner, honored his multi-year scholarship (one of the first issued after the NCAA authorized them), and kept his best interests at heart.
What impresses me most now is how well the school served him. Because he was there so long, he was able to finish his bachelors in Information Systems and a masters in Cyber Security. Within two months of graduating, he landed a job as a cyber security engineer for a defense contractor. He has lifelong friends among the players who have the bond of having achieved a turnaround of the program. And he's engaged to a softball player who is finishing her eligibility this spring. I expect some excellent ball playing grandchildren from that union.
So our family are proud and grateful members of the Retriever fan club. Last night just added another reason to feel good about a very positive relationship.
If you're looking for a good place to play ball, don't overlook obscure places like UMBC, where players can carve out successful niches to compete in and can maintain focus on academics and character and the other things that should be important parts of college athletics.