2011 NCAA Final Four Invades Houston

by Maurice Bobb / @ReeseReport

In the pantheon of basketball, it doesn’t get much better than the NCAA Final Four.  Yesterday, college bball fans–young and old, backers, sponsors and hangers on descended upon Houston in droves to watch Kentucky, VCU, Butler and UConn vie for the ultimate bragging rights–2011 NCAA Men’s Basketball Champion.

The action doesn’t officially start until Saturday, when Reliant Stadium is transformed from football stadium to basketball “arena” a la Cowboys Stadium for the 2010 NBA All-Star Game, but downtown Houston was already abuzz.  The George R. Brown Convention Center, which will be ground zero for “Bracket Town,” held a kick-off celebration filled with activities such as Cartoon Network Kids Zone, Connor Flooring Hoops Court, Capital One NCAA Final Four Challenge & Capital One Sports Trivia and POWERADE NCAA Youth Clinics.  The sprawling venue had a steady flow of patrons decked out in college gear, ready to take in what was advertised as the ultimate NCAA fan experience.  Bracket Town will be open through Monday, April 4 (7 p.m.) and will only set fans back $6 for children age 3-11, seniors and military personnel and $10 for everyone else.

Meanwhile, at the University of Houston’s Hofeinz Pavilion, State Farm got the party started with its College Slam Dunk & 3-Point Championships.  The 3-Point Contest, honestly speaking,was like that free bread they give you at restaurants to tide you over until the entrees arrive.  College of Charleston’s Andrew Goudelock won the Men’s long ball shootout and Cerie Mosgrove took home the sharpshooter crown for the Women.  But everyone in the house came out to see the Dunk Contest and it was no secret that Jacob Tucker of Illinois College was the reason why. Leading up to the selection of the competitors, it was a long shot for Tucker to make the cut.  So the 5-10 white man who CAN jump took to YouTube to state his case.  After more than 3.1 million views of his highlight reel dunks, the Division III guard with a reported 50, count ’em, 50-inch vertical leap was selected to compete in a field that included Pitt’s Gilbert Brown, Cincinnati’s Darnell Wilks and UNC Ashville’s John Williams.

From the outset, it was apparent that the crowd was behind the diminutive maestro of dunk, and he didn’t disappoint.  His first at bat was a self-bounce pass and between the legs tomahawk that resulted in a perfect score of 50.  Judges Karl Malone (former Utah Jazz great and Hall of Famer), Calvin Murphy (Hall of Famer), Chuck Hayes (Houston Rockets), Courtney Lee (Houston Rockets) and DeMeco Ryans (Houston Texans) were all virtuously speechless after Tucker tattooed the rim, quickly holding their “10” scorecards aloft.

Tucker tried a cartwheel dunk, but had to “settle” for a 360-windmill jam after missing the attempt.  Williams joined Tucker in the final round and had a nifty, but already been there, done that put your arm in the rim dunk.  Williams was no match for Tucker, though, who ended the contest with a baseline reverse stuff over his buddy.

In a field filled with comp from the Big East and other major D-1 conferences, Tucker rose to the challenge–literally–and took home the belt as the 2011 NCAA Slam Dunk Champ.

“I was a little upset that I didn’t get the cartwheel dunk early on,” Tucker said.  “I mainly wanted to do dunks that people never saw me do before, so that’s why missing the cartwheel dunk made me upset but I ended up getting that last one, so it was great.  I actually did some YouTube searching and looked up some dunks and I saw a guy do that last dunk I did and thought I could do it, too.  I practiced it and was able to get it on the first try tonight.  It really felt great having the crowd behind me.  I would not have been in this contest if it weren’t for everybody out there voting for me and everybody coming together to help me out.  It hasn’t kicked in yet that I won because I’m still a little disappointed in myself that I missed dunks I should have made on the first try, but this win is incredible and it feels great.”

Next up for me is the Luncheon for Guy Lewis, the former University of Houston coach who went to an impressive 5 Final Fours.  He’ll be honored by Clyde “The Glide” Drexler, Otis Birdsong and Elvin Hayes.

Saturday I’ll be front and center on press row giving you the play by play on the VCU/Butler game and the Kentucky/UConn game.  I’ll be sure to give you the skinny on all goings on about town in the meantime and between time until the main event Monday night.

Make sure you catch the live blogs and share your comments, expertise, gripes and vitriol for every team but yours, whether you wagered your rent money on the outcome or not.