MIAMI — Welcome to March Madness.
For college basketball fans, it’s treated almost like a holiday. But for college basketball players, it’s even bigger than that.
Heat guard Wayne Ellington knows that from experience. Ellington participated in the NCAA Tournament in each of his three seasons at North Carolina, eventually leading the Tar Heels to a national championship as a junior in 2009 and earning the Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player along the way.
With the NCAA Tournament upon us, we spoke to Ellington about his March Madness experience. Here’s what he had to say …
Q: What’s this time of the year like for college basketball players participating in the tournament?
Wayne: “My first year, we lost in the Elite 8 to Georgetown. Sophomore year, we lost to Kansas in the Final Four. And then my junior year, we finally won it all. This time of year, man, as a college player this is what you put all your work in for. I always say it’s that time of year when boys become men because seriously there’s a lot of pressure on you as a player and as a team. You either win or you go home. There’s a lot of pressure and there’s not much room for error so you have to be on top of your game.”
Q: Where does the accomplishment of winning a national title and being named the Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player in 2009 rank for you in your basketball career?
Wayne: “It’s pretty high. It’s at the top of the list for me. Obviously, I haven’t won an NBA championship. It’s definitely on the top of the list for me so far other than being drafted and becoming a pro, which has been my dream since I can remember. But right now, I have to say that national title is at the top of the list. I’m looking forward to moving it down at some point soon.”
Q: What do you remember from that national title run?
Wayne: “It was unbelievable, man. It’s like a feeling you can’t really explain unless you have been a champion. And I think it’s even different at every level. It’s different when you’re an NBA champion, it’s different when you’re an NCAA champion. But it just felt amazing. It’s hard for me to describe, honestly. It’s one of those feelings you can only feel if you experience it.”
Q: How far will North Carolina (No. 1 seed in South Region) go in this season’s tournament?
Wayne: “I expect them to go ahead and win a championship, man. In the beginning of the year, I wasn’t sure how well our team was going to do. But obviously coach (Roy) Williams has proven to always make his team get better and better as the year goes on. That’s what they did this year. We’re ready, man. Jumping in as a No. 1 seed, it’s going to be challenging. But we’re ready to face the challenge.”
Q: There are some Duke guys in the Heat organization (Nick Arison, Shane Battier). How fun is it to go back and forth with them?
Wayne: “It’s fun, man. It’s fun talking trash to those guys and them talking trash to me. It’s all fun. We just have fun with it.”