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Keeping it under control during March Madness


Talk to any sports fan, and he'll tell you the NCAA Men's Division I Basketball Tournament -- aka March Madness -- is one of the most grueling spectacles in all of sports.

Sixty-seven games over three weeks of single elimination basketball, played out on a national stage before frenzied fans, can wear down not only players and coaches but also fans, broadcasters, college officials, bar and restaurant owners, and really anyone whose livelihood depends on these high-intensity hoops.

But not one person in the bunch will complain, for it's where they all want to be. And if you're Jimmer Fredette, the senior point guard who led Brigham Young University to its first Tournament win in 17 years last year, the taste of success makes you only want more.

"It was just a huge burden off our backs and the whole school's back," says Fredette of BYU's 99-92 double-overtime victory over Florida in the first round, to which he contributed 37 points. "I felt like the community was very, very excited about it, and obviously our team was extremely excited about it. And we knew that we wanted to get a win, and we knew that we could if we played well. And we played a tough opponent in Florida with a great history and a great coach and great players on the team, and we were just able to get it done. And I was very, very happy. It was one of the best games I've ever been a part of and one of the greatest memories I've had here at BYU. So it's just a great feeling."

The 2011 version of March Madness tips off in prime time Tuesday and Wednesday, March 15 and 16, on truTV with four first-round games, followed the next two nights by second-round action on truTV, CBS, TNT and TBS. The four broadcasters will team up to air all 67 games of this year's tournament, with CBS, as usual, carrying the Final Four and the National Championship Game on April 2 and 4 from Houston.

For Jim Nantz, who with Clark Kellogg will form CBS' primary in-game broadcast team, this is the busiest time of year. From the beginning of the conference tournaments in early March through the NCAA Final, Nantz was scheduled to call 18 games, after which he would shift gears and head off to the controlled, reverential atmosphere of the Masters.

And while the 51-year-old admits the "Dance" does take its toll, he also indicates his arrival at the florid Augusta National gives him a second wind. He's been at this routine since 1986, when as a 26-year-old neophyte, he first hosted CBS' coverage of the Final Four in Dallas with his now-deceased father present.

As he rehearsed on practice day that year, Nantz noticed out of the corner of his eye his father, a few feet away, looking on in wonderment as his son readied to host a widely viewed national sports broadcast.

It's an experience he says he'll never forget -- and one that holds a tinge of regret for the broadcaster, since the elder Nantz had to head back to his Houston home that night because Jim, in his naivete, didn't know he could secure tickets for family.

"(My director) says, 'You're the host of the Final Four, for gosh sakes. Of course you could have gotten a ticket from somebody at CBS. It's your father,' " Nantz recalls. "And I always regretted from that very minute that my dad didn't get to come back the next day and watch the whole thing in person … the broadcast come to life.

"But the reality is, I just didn't know, and I didn't ask. And it's a sign of the naivete of a 26-year-old at that point, who was learning the ropes and was overwhelmed in some ways by the bigness of the event, not even knowing enough to ask for a ticket for my father to the Final Four."

"Overwhelmed" is not a word Fredette uses to describe his first appearance at the tournament in 2008. Ever the cool-headed competitor when the pressure is on, at this writing he was the NCAA's leading scorer as well as BYU's co-captain and go-to guy.

He got to this point in his career in part because he loves to prove his critics wrong, such as when they say he doesn't possess the athleticism to be a top-flight point guard.

"I've been hearing that my whole entire life, and I just don't worry about it and kind of use it," he says. "I'll just try to do the best I can and show them that I can do that, and I've been successful at that so far, and I'll have confidence in myself that I can do it again."

And if that confidence can drive BYU to a Final Four appearance or even a national title, Fredette will take it the way he always does, in stride.

"It's what you want to do," he says, "You dream about that growing up as a kid, and it's exactly the position you want to be in, and now that you're there, you can't really let it get to you. Just know that it's a fun thing and it's where you want to be as a basketball player in school, and just try to go out and play the best that you possibly can."

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