Now, they're celebrities, across the nation and around their own campus — located in Richmond, Va., with enrollment of 32,000, about the same size as George Mason, the Virginia school that also made the Final Four as an 11 seed back in 2006.
"I went to the bookstore the day the Final Four T-shirts came out, and that was a mistake," VCU guard Bradford Burgess said. "People were taking pictures, giving me hugs, signing autographs. It took me an hour and a half to get out."
On the blue blood side of the bracket, UConn will face Kentucky in a matchup of a No. 3 seed vs. a No. 4.
Granted, these weren't implausible picks by any means, though Kentucky fans had every reason to believe it would be another year. They lost five players to the NBA draft after last season, including the No. 1 pick, John Wall. Meanwhile, they've got a virtual roster of McDonald's All-Americans signed and ready to show up in Lexington next fall.
Calipari figured out his team and got it revved up at precisely the right time. Led by freshmen Brandon Knight (East region most outstanding player) and senior Josh Harrellson (14.8 points and 9 rebounds a game in the tournament), the Wildcats returned to the Final Four for the first time since they last won it all, in 1998.
"This team went from me dragging them to them dragging me," Calipari said. "They became empowered, and that's when they became special. They know it now. They get it."
The Huskies are a young team led by junior Kemba Walker, a guard from the Bronx who has added a nice mid-range and 3-point-shooting game to his repertoire and has averaged 26 points a game since UConn went on a remarkable postseason run. The Huskies, who finished the Big East at 9-9, won five straight in the conference tournament and four more in the NCAA.
UConn is in the Final Four for the second time in three years. In 2009, it was expected. This time, it's a surprise. That places the Huskies in familiar company this week.
"My freshman year, everyone was like, 'You're going to make the Final Four,'" Walker said. "This time, I didn't know if we were going to make it. We were underdogs almost the whole year. To make it the way we made it, it's kind of special."
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