Plenty of big-name college basketball players like Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky, Kentucky’s Karl-Anthony Towns and Michigan State’s Travis Trice showed up strong, as expected, in the 2015 NCAA men’s basketball tournament.
But sometimes, a great player is born in March. Below are some of the previously unknown players, coaches and teams that became overnight heroes during March Madness this year. These guys made the most of their “One Shining Moment.”
Ron and R.J. Hunter (Georgia State Panthers)
This father-son pair was arguably the most feel-good overnight sensation story of the 2015 NCAA tournament. Panthers coach Ron Hunter was already a media darling after tearing his Achilles tendon during the team’s celebration in its conference tournament championship but he became a national treasure during March Madness.
When his son R.J. Hunter hit a go-ahead 3-pointer during the No. 14 seed Panthers’ win over No. 3 seed Baylor, the elder Hunter was so excited, he fell out of the stool he was seated on at courtside. It’s already one of the all-time classic tournament moments.
Students at the University of Alabama at Birmingham may have lost their football team but the Blazers men’s basketball program got the entire nation on its feet for one night in March. On the first Thursday of March Madness action — a day full of upsets — No. 14 seed UAB’s defeat of No. 3 seed Iowa State was arguably the biggest bracket buster. Everybody loves a Cinderella story.
Lucky Jones (Robert Morris Colonials)
This was one player that lived up to his name, although his success was due more to heart than luck. Jones became a household name during No. 16 seed Robert Morris University’s two-game run in the NCAA tournament because of his play, his name and his story.
In the Colonials’ first round win over North Florida, Jones had 21 points, five steals and seven rebounds off the bench. As an infant, Jones fought through a rare disease that doctors said should have killed him before he made it to kindergarten.
Troy Caupain (Cincinnati Bearcats)
Sophomore guard Troy Caupain of Cincinnati was suddenly put into the national spotlight after some last-minute heroics in the one of the tournament’s most exciting games. With Cincinnati trailing Purdue by seven with under a minute left in regulation in the second round, the Bearcats went on a 10-3 run, capped by Caupain’s last-second layup that danced around the rim at the buzzer before falling in. Caupain was the most excited player on the floor as the teams went to overtime, where he scored four more points and helped the Bearcats win.
BeeJay Anya (North Carolina State Wolfpack)
In 1983, a last-second slam dunk won the North Carolina State Wolfpack its only NCAA men’s basketball championship — 32 years later, a shot at the buzzer won the team a thrilling opening round game. Sophomore forward BeeJay Anya, who spent more than half the game versus LSU on the bench, became an overnight hero when he made the Wolpack’s final two shots, tieing and then winning the team’s first game of a run to the Sweet 16.
Wichita State Shockers
In 2013, the Wichita State Shockers exploded onto the national scene by making a run to the Final Four. This year, the team’s run ended in the Sweet 16, but not before the Shockers claimed themselves as the new kings of basketball in Kansas. The national powerhouse Kansas Jayhawks have avoided scheduling Wichita State during the regular season, giving Shocker fans a boulder-sized chip on their shoulders. That avoidance ended when the teams met in round three of the tournament, with the Shockers winning 78-65.
Sam Malone (Kentucky Wildcats)
Image: CBS/Turner Sports
During UK’s historic 2015 run to the Final Four, senior guard Sam Malone played only two minutes and accumulated no stats during the tournament, but he became a cult icon nonetheless. Sharing a name with the lead character from TV’s “Cheers” — something Malone has been able to laugh at since he was a kid near growing up Boston, the setting of the series — was a good start, but it was a courtside fashion choice that put him in the spotlight.
During the team’s rout of West Virginia, CBS cameras showed Malone donning a white headband on the sideline, which Malone later told reporters was meant for “trolling people because I know I’m not going to play.”
Pat Connaughton (Notre Dame Fighting Irish)
Notre Dame fans already knew senior Pat Connaughton as a serious baller but his national coming-out party happened during March Madness. In a tight third-round game with in-state rivals Butler, Connaughton pulled off two defensive plays that kept Notre Dame’s chances alive, eventually allowing them to win in overtime.
With just more than one second left, Connaughton took a risk by smacking an open 3-point shot into the stands, in a play that can now only be known among Notre Dame fans as “the block.” The Irish rode a wave of momentum all the way to the Elite Eight.
Grayson Allen (Duke Blue Devils)
Duke’s championship team was loaded with talented underclassmen, but it was perhaps the most overlooked freshman on the squad that ignited the Blue Devils on the biggest stage. During Monday’s title game, Allen — who only averaged four points per game during the season — scored 16, including eight in a row when his team was down by nine. The best news for Duke fans? Allen will be back next year.
Clint Davis is a writer for the E.W. Scripps National Desk. Follow him on Twitter @MrClintDavis.