I’m sitting here watching the Michigan State/Louisville Elight 8 game. Any time I watch the Cardinals, I always keep my eye on Montrezl Harrell. We have a long history.
In my senior year of college, I watched a lot of college basketball with my roommates. One night in February we were watching Louisville/Notre Dame in one of the last great Big East matchups. Notre Dame would win in five overtimes, and it was one of the best games I’ve ever seen. In regulation, Notre Dame was down by eight with 45 seconds to play. They were down by seven with 34 seconds to play. They came back to tie the game in ridiculous fashion – they hit long three after long three, even after Louisville knocked down their free throws. In the second overtime, Notre Dame hit a three to keep the game going. In the fourth overtime, they hit another shot in the final seconds. Louisville had so many chances to win the game, but Notre Dame kept fighting and finally won in 5 OT.
Here are the highlights:
And here was a screenshot I took on my phone during the fifth OT.
Anyway, back to Montrezl. As the game kept going, players were fouling out. Louisville was running out of players. They were forced to play a freshman named Montrezl Harrell. He was big, and a little uncoordinated, and he had one of the coolest names, and no one had heard of him. In the final seconds of one of the overtimes, he had a chance to knock down a free throw and win the game for Louisville.
You could tell he was nervous. He didn’t play much that year.
He air-balled. And Louisville lost.
After that, we joked about Montrezl, because we’re terrible people. We also became oddly fascinated with him, and so we continued to follow his collegiate career. There’s nothing I love more than following a random player obsessively (see Berroa, Angel).
Then a funny thing happened. Montrezl Harrell got better. And better. And better. Later that year, he won a national championship. In his sophomore year, he became a starter and averaged 14 points and 8 rebounds per game. This year, he was one of the best players in college basketball, averaging a double/double per game (with a much-improved free throw percentage of 60%). And now he’s leading the Cardinals to (potentially) another Final 4.
He’s become a household name. No one remembers that free throw.