There will be nearly 1,000 student-athletes, representing 68 different schools, participating in this year's NCAA Division I men's basketball tournament, which kicks off this week at sites around the country.
Although Howard County isn't home to one of those schools, that doesn't mean there won't be some local faces to cheer for.
Four players who grew up in Howard County, two who played for schools in Columbia for at least two years, will be participating in the madness this march and chasing a national championship.
Here's a look at each of the players and their roles on their respective squads:
College: Notre Dame (22-11, No. 7 seed, South Region)
High school: Mount St. Joseph (Districted for Atholton)
Scouting Report: Pretty much everything for the Fighting Irish starts with Atkins, a 6-foot-1 sophomore point guard who grew up in the Columbia neighborhood of Hickory Ridge. As an every-game starter this season, he ranks among the top three on the team in points (12.2 per game), assists (4.1), steals (40 total) and 3-point field goals (43).
Atkins serves as the primary ball handler for Notre Dame, helping bring the ball up against pressure and getting the team into its offense. He's not often the team's first scoring option, but is more than capable on that end as he showed with three games this year of 20 points or more. Post-season experience is also on his side after averaging 7.5 points off the bench in two NCAA tournament games last season as a freshman.
College: Temple (24-7, No. 5 seed, Midwest Region)
High school: West Oak Academy, Fla. (First two years at Hammond)
First game: Friday, March 16 vs. No. 12 California or South Florida (first-round winner) at Nashville, Tenn., approximately 10 p.m. (30 min. after Michigan-Ohio University game), TNT-TV.
Scouting Report: A 6-foot-9 redshirt-freshman forward, Lee has improved leaps and bounds over the past four seasons. To put things in perspective, Lee didn't even make the varsity team at Hammond as a freshman and sophomore (2007-08). But he grew five inches, moved to Florida and worked his way to a Division I scholarship.
After sitting out last season with a back injury, Lee has blossomed into a major cog for the Owls. He has started in 17 of the team's 31 games, is playing around 19 minutes a night, and is averaging 5.1 points and 5.3 rebounds. Arguably his best game of the season came in Temple's 78-73 win over Duke, where he scored 11 points, grabbed seven rebounds and blocked three shots. In mid-December, Lee garnered Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Week honors.
College: Georgetown (23-8, No. 3 seed, Midwest Region)
High school: Mount St. Joseph (Districted for Hammond)
First game/TV: Friday, March 16 vs. No. 14 Belmont (27-7) at Columbus Ohio, approximately 3:15 p.m. (30 min. after San Diego State-North Carolina State game). tru-TV.