By Esteban Ramirez
Senior Staff Writer
If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere.
Though Frank Sinatra was singing about New York City with that line, it should really be reserved for Madison Square Garden.
No building in the United States has the history the Garden has, and for the CSU Bakersfield men’s basketball team to play there in the semifinals of the National Invitation Tournament is an enormous accomplishment.
This stage brings out the best out of the very best in basketball or any sport in general.
“My last memory [of Madison Square Garden] was of [NBA player] Kemba Walker. He hit that step back, and the mecca just went crazy, so I can’t wait to play there and see how it is,” said CSUB redshirt-senior forward Jaylin Airington.
The bright lights, the aura of past legends and the unforgiving spotlight brings moments that anyone involved will remember.
“It’s an amazing feeling to know that we are going to play at Madison Square Garden where all the greats have played,” said senior guard Dedrick Basile.
Madison Square Garden is where Muhammad Ali fought some of his greatest fights, where Michael Jordan ripped the heart out of thousands and thousands of New York Knicks’ fans and where Reggie Miller provided us with one of the most clutch playoff performances after dropping eight points in nine seconds.
“For whatever reason, I remember Spike Lee and Reggie Miller and the Indiana Pacers going back and forth during the playoffs,” said CSUB Athletics Director Kenneth Siegfried. “That’s probably my favorite memory of watching a game that took place in Madison Square Garden.”
Now, this stage will be for CSUB to create a Division I legacy and to show a whole nation what the team is about.
“Going to Madison Square Garden is a fantastic thing,” said Bakersfield Mayor Karen Goh. “My office in New York City was right there, so I would see the fantastic basketball players going up on a regular basis when I used to live there and work there.”
CSUB has had the spotlight on them before on big stages. Last year, they played the University of Oklahoma in the first round of the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament. Earlier this season the Roadrunners played against the Arizona Wildcats at the historic McKale Center. The Wildcats reached the Elite 8 in this year’s NCAA tournament.
Therefore, CSUB is not new to big venues or big games.
But the Garden is a different monster of pressure.
“I think of the history, the amount of stars that have played there, the game-winning shots and just basically the theme that has been going around is that it is the mecca of basketball,” said Siegfried.
There’s a reason why many still refer to it as the mecca of basketball, and CSUB will have an opportunity to make unforgettable moments in that historic building.
Despite the lore of the building, CSUB head coach Rod Barnes is confident his team can handle the situation.
“I think [the players] are showing improvement that they have the right kind of focus in any situation,” said Barnes.
While an Elite 8 game in the NCAA tournament at Madison Square Garden has more prestige, playing in that building in the semifinals of the NIT is still a huge accomplishment.
“What this means for CSUB is that when you play in an arena with that history and you are on ESPN, it just kind of solidifies your place in the national spotlight,” said Siegfried. “The other thing it means is that our student athletes, our basketball team, coaches, fans they all get an experience that are lifelong memories.”
“It’s exciting to see all their hard work pay off,” said Robin Rossi, 55, loan officer from Bakersfield. “It’s just excitement that comes around and there are no words to describe the feeling in us right now.”
Rossi may not have any words to describe this accomplishment, but it is definitely huge for the program.
Come Tuesday, March 28 everyone will know how ready CSUB is for the grandest stage in basketball and how far this program has come under Barnes.
The Roadrunners are scheduled to play Georgia Tech in the semifinals of the NIT at 4 p.m. on ESPN.