Illustration of C.J. McCollum


'Act Like You've Been Here Before'

With the clock ticking down on what would quickly become one of the most famous upsets in the storied history of the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament, with Lehigh fans deliriously cheering alongside giddy North Carolina fans in a raucous Greensboro Coliseum, with legendary Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski standing stunned and stone-faced on the sidelines, and with the entire world of college basketball watching in living rooms and bars across America, that was the message C.J. McCollum shared with his teammates: "Act like you've been here before!"

Lehigh University basketball players

'WE CAN DO THIS': C.J. McCollum talks to his teammates during a timeout. Facing a huge challenge against a talented Duke team, the players echoed the message of teamwork they’d heard all season in practice: "Guys, we can do this. Everyone, we need all of us together."

McCollum didn't want his teammates jumping around. He didn't want them tearing their jerseys off. He didn't want them to treat this win any differently than they had treated the wins that had come before it. The reason? Simple: He didn't want the rest of the country to think, even for a second, that this win was anything less than exactly what he expected.

No, McCollum was not awed at what was happening that day—what he had helped make happen with another signature performance: 30 points, six rebounds, six assists. He wasn't overwhelmed by the moment, either. While the nation may have been in shock—"Wait, Lehigh is beating Duke???"—McCollum certainly wasn't. And in truth, neither were his teammates.

Five years have passed since that incredible day in Greensboro, but even today, talk to any of those miracle Mountain Hawks and they'll tell you, almost to a man, that when they took the court that day against those Blue Devils, they believed they could win. They truly believed it.

That confidence had a lot to do with basketball, of course. It had a lot to do with favorable matchups, and with the fact that, in McCollum, it was Lehigh, not Duke, that would have the best player on the court. (McCollum is now a star shooting guard for the NBA's Portland Trail Blazers.) But it's also true that the Mountain Hawks' belief in themselves, and in each other, was rooted in something deeper—a true connection that tied the team together in a way that, even today, makes some of the players emotional just talking about it.

What seems undeniable is this: That group of individuals, that group of Mountain Hawks, was more than just a great team. They were also family.

This, then, is the story behind the remarkable 2011-2012 Lehigh men's basketball team, and their signature win over those Blue Devils, as told by the coaches who led them, the players who fought and clawed their way to new heights, the fans who watched in awe, and so many others who were touched in some way not only by that team's on-the-court achievements, but also by their passion for the sport, their pride in Lehigh, and perhaps most notably, their trust and commitment to one another, from the first day of the season to the last.