- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 20, 2008

Dressed in royal blue warm-up suits with wild cheering and the ‘80s hit “Don’t Stop Believing” playing in the background, the American University basketball team yesterday walked into a school send-off party, then to a place they had never been.

The 22-11 Eagles made history this year when they earned the school’s first NCAA basketball tournament berth, and will play No. 2 seed University of Tennessee tomorrow at 12:15 p.m.

“I hope that we pull the biggest upset in college basketball history,” said Patrick Jackson, an international relations professor.

Hundreds of students, many dressed in blue and red, rallied outside Mary Graydon Center for the 13 players and coach, Jeff Jones.

Two faculty members waved “Good Luck Eagles” messages, one attached to a red umbrella and the other to a broomstick.

Senior center Travis Lay grabbed the microphone and said, “We hope to make the AU community proud and bring back a win.”

“Make that two wins,” he said after teammates reminded him that they would need to win twice in Birmingham, Ala., before advancing to the tournament’s Sweet Sixteen round.

“Odds are against us and history is against us because it’s never happened — when a 15 seed beats a No. 2 seed — but those are only probabilities,” Mr. Jackson said. “It’s great that we have the opportunity. We actually have a chance.”

Athletic Director Keith Gill calmed the raucous crowd to introduce university President Cornelius M. Kerwin, who said the team was “closing one chapter of men’s basketball history and opening another.”

Said Mr. Kerwin: “This is one of those events in the life of a university when the entire community can come together. It’s a marvelous event.”

He said the significance of the school’s first tournament berth in its 94-year history will ripple across the country as thousands of alumni watch the game against Tennessee.

The Georgetown University team left yesterday for Raleigh, N.C., to play 15th-seed University of Maryland at Baltimore County.

Shannon Hansen, an American University freshman, joined fellow students in chanting, “Let’s go Eagles,” much like she does as a member of the American University Spirit Team.

“I go to every single home game,” she said.

After the rally, Frane Markusovic, a 6-foot-10-inch junior forward, hastily loaded his bags into the bus that would take the team to the airport.

“I can’t wait to get on the road,” said Markusovic, a native of Croatia. “We’ve never been before, so this is a great experience.”

Mr. Jones said Markusovic is not alone.

“The team is very eager,” he said. “They’ve worked hard. … We’ll play the best game we can possibly play on Friday.”

Caitlyn Gart, 18, said goodbye to her boyfriend, guard Nick Hendra.

“This Friday’s game is all they’ve been talking about all week,” she said.

Some students paid $50 for a “12 or 13 hours nonstop” bus ride to the game, said freshman Grant Lloyd, who will miss at least four classes.

“I started to become a true fan and started to believe they could do it after [upsetting] Maryland,” Mr. Lloyd said.

John Schuler, a self-proclaimed “bracket-ologist” and basketball statistics expert, plans to drive with his fraternity brothers to the first-round game.

“If we have a strong front court and strong offensive and defensive rebounds we’ll do well,” he said. “March brings out the best in some teams, and we’re a good tourney team — especially because we’ve never made it to the dance before.”

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