Kevin Huerter has been getting ready to play in his first NCAA tournament game for most of his life.
When he was old enough to fill out a bracket, Huerter took his shot in the ultra-competitive family pool in upstate Clifton Park, N.Y. The winner didn't get money; the reward was being able to deliver a year's worth of trash talk.
"This is always my favorite time of year, and a lot of other people's, filling out the bracket, seeing how your teams were doing, watching every game," the Maryland freshman guard said Tuesday. "Staying home from school, or leaving school early to watch the games. We loved it so much."
In 2008, the 9-year-old nearly won the pool.
"If Memphis had won, and Mario Chalmers had not hit that [3-point] shot, I would've won," Huerter said. "I think I came in third."
Two years later, Huerter accompanied his father, Tom, on a cross-country trip to Spokane, Wash., to watch Siena, where the elder Huerter played from 1987 to 1991 and served as the team's radio analyst. The Saints lost to Purdue in the first round.
"A local newspaper [in upstate New York] asked me and my brother and another kid — they wanted us to write down our whole experience, what we did, what we saw and the different experiences," Huerter said. "Basically whatever the team was doing, we'd tag along. They wrote a story on it."
Little did he know at the time that both his future college team and future college coach were in the same arena that day. That was the year Maryland lost to Michigan State in the second round on Korie Lucious' 3-pointer at the buzzer. And Texas A&M, coached by Mark Turgeon, lost to Purdue in overtime.
Now Huerter is old enough — and good enough — to make his NCAA tournament debut, when the No. 6 seed Terps try to keep their season going with a victory over No. 11 Xavier on Thursday in Orlando, Fla. Huerter has started every game for Maryland, averaging 9.0 points and 5.0 rebounds in 29.2 minutes a game.
"It does feel different," Huerter said Tuesday, after the team practiced in Orlando. "Coach Turgeon said that leaving practice today. He said he really wants us to enjoy this. He doesn't want us just going to practice and treating it like every other game. He wants us hanging out, not sitting in our rooms all day.
While the Terps are two-point favorites to beat Xavier, Huerter grew up rooting for the underdogs in the NCAA tournament.
"Syracuse was two hours away, so we really didn't have a favorite big school; in those type of games we went with the underdogs," he said. "Doing that, you kind of appreciate how incredible the NCAA tournament was. Not only do they have to win their conference tournament, but they have to play out of their minds against a Power 5 school to win."
Tom Huerter has been getting ready to watch the younger of his two sons play in his first NCAA tournament game for much of his adult life, coaching the now nearly 6-foot-7 guard from grade school through Amateur Athletic Union ball. His older son, Thomas, plays at Siena.
Even though Tom Huerter has been a mainstay at Xfinity Center all season, and has even gone to several road games, there is admittedly something special about watching his son as part of March Madness.
"I know he's realizing something that he's probably been dreaming about for a long time," Tom Huerter said. "In a lot of ways, he's just a kid at heart, and this is really exciting."
The elder Huerter was pretty much the same way more than a quarter century ago, playing for Siena, when the Saints, a No. 14 seed, upset No. 3 Stanford in the opening round of the 1989 NCAA tournament in Greensboro, N.C.
Huerter was an important role player on the 25-5 Siena team that season.
In the upset over Stanford, the 6-6 sophomore guard played a season-high 27 minutes, scored eight points and did a decent job on Cardinal star Todd Lichti, who later that year was the 15th overall pick in the NBA draft.
"My role was to play defense on Todd Lichti, shoot when I was open, do what what I was told," said Huerter, who averaged 7.7 points for the season. "It kind epitomized our season. We had guys that understood their roles and that's why we beat Stanford."
The Saints won on a pair of free throws in the final seconds by the team's leading scorer, Marc Brown. Huerter remembers setting the screen that got Brown free.
Kevin Huerter has watched tape of Siena's win over Stanford with his father "a couple of times."
Asked what he thought of his father as a player, Huerter said: "We always like to get him about the short shorts, the different style everything was back then. He had a good-looking jump shot. He looked a little more athletic than he does nowadays, for sure."
For years, Tom Huerter heard stories from Siena fans about that momentous victory.
Kevin Huerter, whose maturity on and off the court often belies his age, understands how big of a deal the tournament is for a team's fan base. His older teammates have told him about the different feel on campus last year when the Terps returned from their two early-round wins.
Huerter said Sunday night that the fact that he was finally going to play in the NCAA tournament started to come into focus when he and his teammates left Turgeon's house, where they had watched the selection show.
"I was in the car, going back [to campus], I was really excited, I was telling people, 'I want to play the game tonight,'" Huerter said. "The NCAA tournament is something I've been watching since as long as I can remember. Watching Selection Sunday, watching different teams get picked but not really feeling the same type of emotion you feel when it's your team being called ... to be part of it is not like anything else, to be honest."