The Battle of the Alma Maters

I left Riverside High School in 2008 bound for Middle Tennessee State University and a career in music production. That lasted about six weeks before I changed my major. Two years later I was a broadcast journalism major leaving Murfreesboro for Syracuse. The details of that aren't particularly relevant at the moment, but it was the best decision I ever made. Being an SU alum has opened more doors than I could ever imagine, but my time at MTSU was just as important, and basketball was an enormous reason why.

Syracuse is as big time as a program can get, which means that it's a little harder to get on the inside. Being a student reporter makes it near impossible. Jim Boeheim has a historical disdain for them and routinely humiliates them in press conferences seemingly for sport. Again, that's a different column for a different day, but I was never more than an educated observer as a member of the media at SU.

That was far from the case at MTSU.

While many of you reading know me as a football guy from my job at ESPN980, basketball is my first love. It's my passion. I love to watch. I love to play. I love everything about it.

That love was cultivated in many ways at Middle. I was incredibly lucky to have two coaches that not only were accessible, but let me into the inner sanctums of their programs. They trusted me. They allowed me to learn.

Rick Insell was an extraordinarily accomplished high school coach before taking over the MTSU women's program. Kermit Davis was one of college basketball's rising stars before he was hit with major violations at Texas A&M and had to rebuild his career, starting in junior college. He made his way back to the D1 ranks and took over MTSU in 2002.

While I watched from press row for much of my freshman year, I started early my sophomore year as both Insell and Davis allowed me to watch practices long before the season started and kept their doors open for the entire year.

It was inside the Murphy Center, where both teams held practice, that I learned more about the game of basketball than at any other point of my life. I learned how much goes into game preparation. I learned the detail with which a team had to execute to be successful. I learned how a coach instills an attitude in a team and a program.

While Coach Insell and the woman's program had more success when I was there, I learned much of that from Coach Davis. The intensity and tempo of their practices showed me what it took to win on the Division 1 level. I knew that if he was given the time, he would be able to build a team that could consistently compete, in large part because of how much Davis taught them to compete.

Not only is Kermit a great coach with an incredible depth of knowledge, but he was also incredibly open and approachable. He, and his staff, would happily answer questions I had about their team and about the game.

Simply put, my career would've played out differently if I didn't spend that time at MTSU, not only from a media standpoint where I was able to get invaluable reps in a less competitive student media program, but from a basketball standpoint where I learned more than I could bargain for.

I took that knowledge with me and was known as a basketball guy until I arrived in DC. I still am. I just have a football education now too.

A lot has changed since I left both schools. None of the players are still at either school, unless you count Trevor Cooney who redshirted during my senior year at SU. Both teams are in different conferences as well. However the coaches are still the same and Sunday they'll play each other for a spot in the Sweet 16.

I've always felt more loyalty to Syracuse because I'm so personally attached to the university. I feel no such attachment to MTSU, and in many ways felt spurned by some of the academic types and administration there. However when it comes to the basketball programs, I certainly could justify rooting for either side.

I have a feeling I'll find myself rooting for the Orange, but if Kermit and company pull out another one, I'll certainly be proud of them. Just like I am now, despite them blowing my bracket to smithereens.