Lehigh University basketball players getting off plane

Chapter 5

The Buildup

Reed: Kids grow up—I grew up—dreaming about playing for championships and dreaming of playing in the NCAA Tournament. Being a boy from the suburbs of Detroit, Mich., I remember taking a shovel, cleaning off snow from the driveway, wearing a pair of gloves, bouncing a basketball that is so cold it doesn't bounce the right way and doesn't really come up very high, and shooting shots. ... I'm sure my experience as a kid with those dreams wasn't that much different than the kids we had on our team.

Scalese: There were several Lehigh fans and a lot of Lehigh students who took a drive down for the game. It was also great to have another group of fans, those North Carolina fans [who hate Duke]. They said, "You guys need to win. We are on your side. We are cheering you on." So we had a warm welcome.

To be in a huge arena like the one in Greensboro, I just felt starstruck. As a cheerleader, that's what you dream of, you dream of that big championship game, to represent your school.

Haas: We made sure we brought as much marketing, sort of fan engagement paraphernalia, as we could, in terms of signs and giveaways and things like that just to dress up the section and make it look as spirited and pro-Lehigh as possible.

Kerr: We were the first game of the night session, and we had to get there pretty early. There was a police escort to go from the hotel to the game. When we get to the [Greensboro Coliseum] there are TV cameras waiting for the team to get off the bus. They'll show that as part of their pregame coverage.

We walked into the arena, and it was filling up. I had courtside, which is press row. I'm going to call the game from there, and as it turns out, I was right across from the Duke bench. The national TV broadcasters, national radio broadcasters had some of the prime seating toward center court.

Haas: Duke is one of the most popular programs in the country, in terms of fans. North Carolina is also very popular, but North Carolina, in that region, is very popular. So there was a ton of North Carolina fans at the game. We kind of knew going into it that they would of course root for us and against Duke, given the rivalry. And we understand that rivalry, given Lehigh-Lafayette, there's a lot of similarities there. So we brought "Go Lehigh" signs, and our students and some of our cheerleaders and fans handed them out to Carolina fans who then proceeded to cheer for us during the game and at timeouts. It sort of gave us strength in numbers a bit from a fan perspective.

Maneri: It almost felt like a home game for us. I thought it was one of the coolest experiences I ever had in basketball.

Lehigh basketball player C.J. McCollum

A LEADER: All season long, C.J. McCollum was put in positions to make decisions, because, Coach Reed says, “he’s that talented of a player.” McCollum was confident that Lehigh would beat Duke.

McCollum: Going into the game, I knew I had to carry myself with a little bit of swagger. I had to let Duke know that we weren't going to lay down. North Carolina had played right before us, and Harrison Barnes and Kendall Marshall were hanging around by the tunnel as we were preparing to go out for warm-ups. I told them, "Hey, tell your fans to stay for our game. We're a small school, bro. We need some support."

Harrison was laughing, like, "all right, sure." I'm like, "For real. I'm about to put on a show. Stick around."

When we got on the floor for warm-ups, the Duke guys were trying to get in our heads. The trash talk started early. "What's a Lehigh? I never heard of a Lehigh." Stuff like that.

I tried reverse psychology on them. I was like, "Man, you guys got a lot of fans here. Would be a shame if you guys lost, huh?"**