They say that waiting is the hardest part. The CSU menâ€™s basketball team had to wait 21 minutes into the NCAA Tournament selection show, not to mention two days since losing in the Mountain West semi-finals, to see its name pop up in the 2012 bracket.
But it did. And really, thatâ€™s all that matters.
â€œItâ€™s a great day for our program,â€ CSU coach Tim Miles said.
The Rams, seeded 11th, will take on the sixth-seeded Murray State Racers on Thursday in Louisville, Ky. Murray State is located in the town of Murray, Ky. about a four hour drive from Louisville.
The Racers went 30-1 on the season and won the Ohio Valley Conference. The match up itself wasnâ€™t that present on the CSU players minds immediately after the selection show.
â€œWe donâ€™t care really where weâ€™re playing, just getting and having the chance is awesome,â€ junior guard Dorian Green said.
The selection is more than just a big moment for CSU, itâ€™s a tangible sign that the program has officially turned around.
Miles won six games in his first year, nine in his second, but now has led the Rams to the postseason for three consecutive years, each year moving up to a more significant tournament.
It is the first time since 2003 that CSU has been to the NCAA Tournament. That team made it after winning the Mountain West Tournament. The last at-large berth for a Rams team came in 1990.
â€œWeâ€™ve spilled a lot of blood here from 2007 on,â€ Miles said. â€œTo have this group put it all together and come through in the clutch like they have is really a cool day for CSU Ram basketball.â€
For Miles it is a day that he has been working his entire life for, coaching at the NAIA level, to Division II and now he has an invitation to the Big Dance.
â€œFor a while youâ€™re like, â€˜maybe this doesnâ€™t work.â€™ But it does. I know that more than ever,â€ Miles said.
In front of a small group of reporters on Sunday, Miles recounted the early days of his tenure at CSU when the team not only didnâ€™t win games, it wasnâ€™t even close to competitive. At one point Miles held tryouts open to the student body just to fill out the roster.
â€œI canâ€™t tell you the thoughts that went through my head when we won 16 games in two years, to this. I just canâ€™t,â€ Miles said. â€œIâ€™m not speechless often, but just thinking, the whole journey has been incredible.â€
The recipe for success that Miles used to get to this point was to slowly build talent, while ensuring that he created the right circumstances to reach the main goal.
â€œEvery time we put out a schedule the idea is that we are a candidate for an at-large berth in the NCAA Tournament,â€ Miles said. â€œThatâ€™s come through.â€
CSU finished the season with the No. 30 RPI in the nation and fourth best strength of schedule as the Rams played quality opponents like Duke, Southern Miss and Stanford in non-conference play.
That schedule afforded CSU room for a couple of slips, like losses to TCU and Boise State on the road. And the Rams got enough marquee wins to make the Tournament.
â€œWe were confident in our body of work over the course of the season that the committee would recognize that,â€ CSU forward Pierce Hornung said. â€œThey obviously did. We were pretty confident, but still you get that anxious feeling waiting for your name to come up.â€
Soon enough the reality of the task at hand will set in and the team will start putting in a game plan for Murray State, but for now the Rams are enjoying the moment.
â€œI think itâ€™s still sinking in for me right now,â€ guard Wes Eikmeier said. â€œThereâ€™s not a feeling quite like it.â€
The Collegian will be in Louisville for CSUâ€™s first-round game. Be sure to stick with Collegian.com for full coverage as well as a live chat from the game.
Assistant Sports Editor Kevin Lytle can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.