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UMBC President Freeman Hrabowski relishes men's basketball team's historic win: 'You don’t write someone off'

UMBC President Freeman Hrabowski says his basketball team sent a powerful message with its historic win Friday over No. 1 seed Virginia.

“They showed the country that you don’t write someone off,” Hrabowski said Saturday morning, speaking by phone from North Carolina.

In the hours after No. 16 seed UMBC’s stunning upset in the NCAA tournament — a first in men’s basketball history — Hrabowski said messages of congratulations poured in from elected officials, business leaders and fellow university presidents. He didn’t get any sleep until 6:30 a.m.

“The only word I can think of is ‘surreal,’ ” he said.

Hrabowski said he is thrilled about the attention the school is receiving from around the country.

“People began to Google us and to see the academic achievements,” he said. “That’s what’s so wonderful for us … It is by far the greatest source of visibility we have had in the history of the university.”

One alumnus in Seattle told him about celebrating the win with colleagues at Amazon.

“From a potential employer like Amazon to other university presidents to elected officials,” he said, “all of them saw us visually on TV.”

He called UMBC “a middle-class campus” and said many people have commented to him on the diversity of the UMBC crowd at the game.

The team exemplified a value that Hrabowski said he often extols: grit.

“My players, my students remembered that nothing takes the place of grit,” he said. “It worked. It was amazing.”

alisonk@baltsun.com

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