WASHINGTON — For the last 31 years, for Howard University basketball players, March Madness was something they experienced on their couch. On Thursday, the men's basketball team will get to be part of the madness.
When the Howard Bison defeated the Norfolk State Spartans 65-64 in the championship game of the 2023 MEAC Tournament, a group of 16 or so men in their mid-50s were elated to lose the distinction of being the last Howard basketball players to participate in the NCAA Tournament.
"We're just happy we can finally stop saying we're the last Howard team to win the MEAC," Lamont Fain told WUSA. Fain was a team manager on the 1991-92 Bison, a role that put him in the position to move to a 30-year career in the NBA, working behind the scenes on the media side of things. "I'm the only one off that Howard team that made the NBA, and I was just the trainer!" Fain joked.
A day before Howard's tilt with top seeded Kansas, members of that 1991-92 team spent some time reminiscing about that amazing season and appreciating what another trip to the "Big Dance" will do to put their alma mater in the spotlight.
Tommy Brown was the MEAC Rookie of the Year as a member of that 1991-92 Bison team.
"I have a friend who was living in Germany at the time. He watched us play as a high schooler. He tells me that that was the day he made his decision to attend Howard." Brown added, "Everyone already knows the Kansas's, the Duke's, the Kentucky's and those schools, but for the smaller schools, it is an opportunity to shed some light on the institutions."
One common theme you'll find when talking to former Howard basketball players; success in life after basketball and how appreciative they are in the role their alma mater played in setting them up for that success.
Another example of a Howard hoops alum who found success after playing basketball is Milan Brown. You'll find his jersey retired, hanging in the rafters at Burr Gymnasium. After Howard, Brown went into coaching and is in his 5th season as an assistant coach for the University of Pittsburgh's men's team, another NCAA Tournament hopeful. While he gets his team ready for their Friday game in Greensboro, he says he'll try to find a way to fit Howard's game against Kansas into his schedule.
"I'm going to do everything in my power to make sure I can watch the game. I'll be there in spirit, for sure," said Brown.
On campus Wednesday, four members of the team that elevated Howard and its athletic program to prominence reflected on their success and being back on the court where they spent so much of their collegiate careers.
"It’s exciting. I got goosebumps when I walked back in. Just a lot of memories," said former player, Ron Cole.
"This time of year I go back and look at the game. I get nostalgia this time of year. Every year," said former player Howard Holley.
Howard went undefeated at home in conference play during their season. But they did lose at home to a non-conference Division II school, Paine College.
"Right after the game, coach made us practice," said Holley.
"Right in front of the crowd," added another former player, Art Crowder. "The crowd was leaving and we came back up here and practiced."
By the end of the season the team had peaked, winning the MEAC Conference tournament and punching their ticket into March Madness.
"And it just elevated Howard to a whole another level," said Crowder.
"It was almost surreal. Even from the point of practices. Where you had to have a press pass and the media was in the stands just to watch us practice so even that was intense because you wanted to perform in practice like you wanted to perform in the game," said Holley.
"There’s an Eric B. and Rakim song, ‘Move the Crowd’. When you are here on this platform, you have the ability to move the crowd," said former player Charles Solomon.
They didn’t just move the crowd. They moved the country. Howard University was seen by new eyes as a destination for academic and athletic success.
These veterans have advice for Howard’s rising sports stars. Advice for the big game on Thursday, but it’s also advice for how to live life.
"Don’t be scared to fail. And embrace the moment," said Cole.
"This is your time to shine," said Crowder. "You don’t want to look back in the mirror and say I could have done something better."
"Seize the moment," added Solomon.
"Play like it’s your last game because it potentially can be," said Holley.
As far as the game itself, Howard is a major underdog, playing against one of the top teams in this year's tournament. Can they win?
"It could happen, it could happen. I agree," said Brown
Fain added, "A little luck won't hurt. Basketball Gods shining down on us."
Howard takes on Kansas on Thursday, March 16 at 2 p.m.