Cinderella [sin-duh-rel-uh] - noun
- The titular character of the fairy tale Cinderella
- The fairy tale itself
- A 1945 ballet production about the fairy tale
- A person of merit, undeservedly neglected or forced into an obscure existence
- A person who achieves unexpected success especially following obscurity
Let’s read that fifth definition again.
A person who achieves unexpected success especially following obscurity.
Still don’t think the South Carolina Gamecocks are a Cinderella? Think again.
Let’s break that definition down to two parts:
- Achieves unexpected success
- Following Obscurity
Let’s start with the second part of this equation, because I think back to a specific story everytime I look at my phone to remind myself the Gaemcocks are actually in the Final Four.
Rewind back to Nov. 24, 2013. I was still a bright-eyed, bushy tailed senior at USC -- not yet broken by the overwhelming realities of adulting no one prepares you for in school. That day I was on assignment from my old college publication “Garnet Report” to cover the basketball game between South Carolina and FIU.
It was Frank Martin’s second year on staff, and the previous season the team finished 14-18. While there was some level of optimism about bringing in someone to run the program like Martin, I was never sure how confident anyone really was that he would actually turn things around.
As I walked though the media entrance onto the court at Colonial Life Area, I looked around main floor to find the lower section practically empty. There were a few pockets of spectators crowded around courtside along with the 30 or 40-man “Garnet Army” -- the group of dedicated students who came out to every basketball game so the players didn’t feel totally irrelevant.
The attendance for that game is still listed at 9,869 -- a lie so offensive even Donald Trump would be ashamed of it. There might have been 120 people at this game, maybe just a hair over.
While I was taking my seat on press row behind the home basket all I could think about were the times I watched college basketball games on TV when Duke or North Carolina hosted a team like FIU. Those arenas were standing room only. Students would claw each others eyes out for tickets to those games.
“Man, I wonder what it must be like to go to a school where basketball matters,” I would think to myself as South Carolina took to the court to the same ovation a B-list stand-up comic would get on a Tuesday night.
I went to more lively basketball affairs in high school than this game. Granted FIU doesn’t connote a big draw, but at the same time USC has no problem packing the student section for a football game against Coastal Carolina. Why not FIU?
Because why would anyone? South Carolina had not been to the NCAA tournament since 2004, a year where half the students on campus in 2013 where in middle school. Other than a handful of successful runs in the NIT, South Carolina was a place where basketball simply something to fill airtime on 107.5 The Game between football and baseball.
Even with Martin at the helm and a top-30 freshman in Sindarius Thornwell now on the roster, it wasn’t enough to generate more than 130 people to come to a basketball game. But in spite of a low turnout, South Carolina actually played pretty well and beat FIU 84-72.
Thornwell finished with eight points on 4-10 shooting, while Ty Johnson led the team in scoring with 18 points. South Carolina had improved to 2-2 with wins over FIU and Longwood and would go 12-18 the rest of that season.
I remember walking away from the post game presser where I was one of five reporters in attendance thinking, “Man, that was bleak.” It was probably the most depressed I had ever felt after a Gamecock win. Need I remind you I started my writing career covering tennis matches for the student newspaper.
So if that isn’t obscurity, I don’t know what is. South Carolina was a sad basketball sight for many years. I’d be willing to bet three quarters of campus while I was in school didn’t know who Alex English or Frank McGuire were because it had been that long since South Carolina was in any sort of national basketball spotlight.
Which brings me to the second part of our Cinderella definition, “achieving unexpected success”.
I mean, do we really have to delve deep to explain how that’s relevant?
You know, even us here at Garnet and Black Attack are prone to the occasional cold take. Following the 64-53 loss to Alabama, yours truly tweeted this out from the GABA twitter account:
Do you want to make the NCAA tournament anymore?— FINAL FOUR ATTACK (@GABAttack) March 10, 2017
Safe to say spirits were not high near the end of the regular season. Following a great start with wins over Syracuse and Michigan, South Carolina ended the regular season 3-6 and left fans in disarray with memories of 2016 when South Carolina was left out of the NCAA Tournament following a 24-8 campaign.
There was a strong contingent of fans who legitimately believed South Carolina was going to be left out again. People were calling for Martin to be fired. Let me say that again… FIRED. That’s how bad things had become.
Only 44% of the 19 million fans on ESPN’s bracket challenge had picked South Carolina to beat Marquette in the first place. Shamefully enough, I picked Marquette to beat South Carolina in the opening round. I had no confidence in the team at that point, and why would I? Nothing the Gamecocks had done in the last month and change would have convinced me otherwise.
Even after South Carolina blew by Marquette in round one, who honestly thought the Gamecocks would have a shot at Duke? Not just any Duke team, but the “most talented” Duke team Mike Krzyzewski had every assembled.
South Carolina wasn’t supposed to have a chance against Duke. Yet, a 65-point second half later there were the Gamecocks standing proudly over Duke’s carcass in Greenville of all cities. Brackets were ruined across the country, and in the process of beating America’s most hated college basketball team -- South Carolina became America’s college basketball team.
If this isn’t a Cinderella story written by Walt Disney himself, then we simply have different definitions of what a Cinderella story is. Two years ago South Carolina was a game over .500 to end their regular season, and today they’re a game away from playing for a national championship.
Martin, Thornwell and the rest of this team is what everyone loves about the NCAA Tournament. They’re underdogs. Shunned by the prettier sisters Kentucky and Florida through most of the regular season, but when it came time to go to the Ball -- it was South Carolina who showed up with the glass slippers.
And as to when the clock will strike midnight, we’ll just have to wait and see.