by RENALDO DORSETT
What Buddy Hield and Tum Tum Nairn have done for Bahamian basketball has captivated the country. They’re the first players of the social media age to bring this spotlight to the Bahamas in the most media saturated and commercially profitable event not called the Super Bowl.
We’re assured to have a player in the Elite Eight, but we’ll worry about that on Sunday. For Friday night everyone has to choose a side and that dialogue has sparked many questions. Who’ll have the bigger impact on Friday, which Island produces the best players? Who has the better nickname?
It’s not the first time Bahamian players have competed at this level, so for basketball historians, the biggest question may be – Who had the greatest NCAA tournament runs in Bahamian basketball history?
*We may have to add both Buddy and Tum Tum to the list after this weekend. Prepare for the rewrite.
1 – Quentin Hall – Guard, Gonzaga Bulldogs
1999 Tournament Finish – Elite Eight
This was the tournament that really solidified me as a college basketball fan for life.
It had been a few years since I saw Hall lead Hawksbill High to consecutive Hugh Campbell titles, but like any small town, it was customary to see guys peak at that level and disappear from national consciousness.
After spending two years in relative obscurity at North Idaho Junior College, Hall transferred to Gonzaga and was the catalyst behind the Bulldogs rise to NCAA notoriety.
He was only 5’8” and 160 pounds, but was the same lightning quick, fiery, charismatic floor general that he was in high school.
At 14 years old, I had seen great point guards make runs at the national title every year, but I’d never seen one do it that looked like me and was from where I’m from.
For his senior season (1998-1999), he averaged 11.5 points and four assists per game while starting every game at the point.
We’re used to Gonzaga being an NCAA Tournament staple nowadays, but it wasn’t always that way.
Hall, along with Matt Santangelo and Richie Frahm formed a three guard lineup that plucked the Bulldogs from relative obscurity as a No.10 seed all the way to the Regional Final.
Everyone loves the underdog story, imagine being an underdog with a small point guard from an even smaller country.
He was a student of the game and always tried to get his teammates involved. Perhaps most importantly, Hall had a good sense of his own limitations and strengths, which included sharp reflexes, great elevation and an explosive first step.
The Zags beat seventh-seeded Minnesota 75–63 in the first round and Hall finished with 10 points and four rebounds.
They followed with an 82–74 win over second-seeded Stanford when Hall added 14 points and eight rebounds.
In the Sweet 16, Hall finished with seven points and four assists when the Zags would go on to beat Florida 73–72 to advance to the Elite Eight.
In the Elite Eight, they trailed eventual national champion UConn by one point with a minute remaining before losing 67–62.
Hall finished with 18 points and eight rebounds.
Before retiring from basketball in 2008 and returning to the Bahamas, Hall spent close to a decade traveling Europe in the Dutch, Hungarian, Belgium and German leagues.
During the regular season Gonzaga finished with a 28–7 record and the conference tournament championship.
This Cinderella run would be the coming out party for the Bulldogs, and a Bahamian was at the focal point of it all.
Gonzaga has made the NCAA Tournament each year since, including being ranked as a number two seed in this year’s bracket.
2 – Rick Fox – Forward, North Carolina
1991 Tournament Finish – Final Four
This was my first tournament that I can remember but it had nothing to do with Rick Fox.
Six year old Renaldo was more captivated with UNLV, hating Duke, and crying with frustration every time Bobby Hurley jumped up into Christian Laettner’s arms to celebrate (I can’t overstate how much I hated that team. You do know they started this entire trend of teams huddling at the free throw line at every dead ball? Horrible legacy.)
What I missed out on was Rick Fox being one of the top players for one of college basketball’s most storied programme’s.
That North Carolina team featured eight McDonald’s All-Americans and six future NBA players, but they still looked to Fox to lead them.
He finished as the team’s leading scorer at 17.5 points and 6.3 rebounds per game.
After they finished second in the ACC, the Tar Heels entered the tournament as the No.1 seed in the East region.
In the opening round, Fox had 16 points as they breezed to a 101-66 win over Northeastern.
The round of 32 was another blowout as Fox finished with 14 points and eight assists in an 84-69 win over the ninth ranked Villanova Wildcats.
The Sweet 16 didn’t change much as North Carolina ended the Cinderella run for Eastern Michigan with a 93-67 win.
Fox struggled shooting from the field but still finished with six points and six rebounds.
He rebounded in the Elite Eight with 19 points, seven rebounds and five assists in 75-72 win over the No. 10 ranked Temple Owls.
Fox’s tournament run would come to an end with a woeful shooting performance in the Final Four when they lost to the No.3 Kansas Jayhawks, 75-72.
Fox shot just 5-22 from the field, and fouled out with 13 points, nine rebounds and seven assists.
His professional career turned out even better than his collegiate run so its often overlooked, but what else can you expect. I was six. I was still figuring out how to draw Christian Laettner in a ring of fire with horns on his head.
3 – Magnum Rolle – Forward LSU
2006 Tournament Finish – Final Four
An injury to Tyrus Thomas headed into the tournament thrust Rolle into the spotlight as the seldom used freshman got an opportunity during the Tigers unlikely run at the title.
Rolle was a giant in high school at St. Georges (you’re not going to convince me otherwise – certified giant like the ones that lived at the top of beanstalks) and took his game to the Laurinburg Institute in North Carolina to complete his prep career.
After that it was off to LSU where, in his freshman season, he was a part of a program that led the Tigers to their first Final Four appearance since 1986.
During the 2005–06 season, Rolle averaged 2.2 points, 2.5 rebounds, and added 21 blocked shots in 8.7 minutes per game.
LSU entered the tournament as a No.4 seed and won their first four games by an average margin of nine points per contest.
Rolle finished with two points and one rebound when they defeated Iona in first round, 80-64 and added five rebounds in a 58-57 win over Texas A and M.
In the sweet 16, Rolle finished with two points and three rebounds in a 62-54 win over top seeded Duke.
He added two points with a 70-60 win over second seeded Texas in the Elite Eight but had his best performance of the tournament in a losing effort at the Final Four.
Thomas, a future NBA lottery pick, was limited to just 17 minutes and Rolle stepped up to grab a team high eight rebounds along with two points and a blocked shot in 14 minutes on the floor.
Despite his effort, they lost to eventual runners up UCLA, 59–45.
Rolle would transfer to Louisiana Tech in his sophomore year but his tournament run will always be remembered for Jim Nantz and Bill Raferty bombing every time with their horrible “Magnum PI” puns.