Is this sinking in for you?
I don't think I will truly believe what happened this week until I see the word "Akron" on my bracket.
It doesn't make sense that the Zips had the scare of a lifetime against Toledo. Then the team breezed through what should have been a three-day gauntlet for an exhausted team without its point guard. Akron won its three final games by a combined 30 points.
It doesn't make sense that the Zips would win the MAC this year, when most Akron fans would have been satisfied with the 20-win season because knowing brighter days were ahead, as opposed to the last two years, when Akron fans left Cleveland on Saturday terribly disappointed because the Zips seemed like a team that could make a dent in the NCAA Tournament.
Then again, Keith Dambrot's career hasn't made sense. Dumb luck allowed one of the three best athletes in the world, LeBron James, to fall into his lap. But a lack of luck (and perhaps foresight) got him fired at Central Michigan. Dumb luck put him in the right place at the right time to take over the job at his alma mater. But a lack of luck (and perhaps foresight) allowed Doug Penno's shot to fall.
As a fan, an NCAA Tournament berth is special, particularly at a school that hasn't been there since the Ronald Reagan administration. Something other than that choked me up, though. It was the ramifications for Dambrot, whose life is begging for a biography. It is a beautiful reward for someone who has fallen into controversy and vindication, into misery and triumph. This triumph is a gold star on Dambrot's resume, and he will start to get more of the credit that he deserves as being one of the nation's best mid-major coaches.
I was also happy for Nate Linhart. It is heart warming to see someone's hard work pay off in the twilight of his career. He will leave Akron as the winningest player in the program's history. It's no coincidence. As I have written several times, Linhart is everything that is right about college basketball. He cares. He leads. He respects others. He expends every ounce of energy.
You might compare this to the football team's title in 2005, the year after Charlie Frye left. But it feels different. The football team won a tiebreaker to get to Detroit, then it beat a heavy favorite on a last-moment Hail Mary. That was highway robbery. This is an overdue reward.