OMAHA, Neb. – Creighton point guard Davion Mintz can picture exactly where he used to sit as a kid when he watched his hometown NBA team.
About seven rows up. Behind one of the hoops.
They were the Charlotte Bobcats — not the Hornets — when he was young. They weren’t very good. But Mintz didn’t mind. Gerald Wallace used to give Mintz his headband. And Mintz used to think about how sweet it would be if he could one day play on that court.
He’ll get his chance Friday.
The Jays will open the NCAA tournament at the Spectrum Center, a familiar spot for Mintz and reserve point guard Ty-Shon Alexander, who played his freshman season at Concord High School before later going on to Charlotte’s Northside Christian Academy and Virginia’s Oak Hill Academy.
The two North Carolinians will get to suit up — at least for 40 minutes — like the stars they admired a decade ago from the stands.
“It’ll be fun to say, ‘Wow I was sitting in those seats and now I’m playing here,’?” said Mintz, a sophomore. “That’s amazing.”
Alexander said he was trying to tell all his teammates before the 68-team bracket was released Sunday that the Jays were destined to play in Charlotte. The freshman was sure of it. Nobody believed it.
“Everybody kept denying it, saying we weren’t going,” Alexander said, smiling.
He was right. And he’s fired up about it. He went to Bobcats games back in the day, too.
“I’m very thrilled that we’re going back home,” Alexander said.
But there’s a clear challenge for Alexander and Mintz, the two players who will run CU’s attack against a disciplined Kansas State defense. Their ultimate goal is to win, not just to enjoy a homecoming.
So they’ll have to manage their emotions. Mintz has heard from family members and friends who either hope he can hook them up with tickets or intend to attend anyway. Alexander said his phone has been buzzing since Sunday night.
It may be the only time these two get to experience something like this.
Creighton hasn’t played in North Carolina since its 2012 NCAA tournament appearance. Mintz has never played in the Spectrum Center. Alexander has, but only a couple of times.
“Once I saw it, I was really excited,” Mintz said.
And based on Mintz’s recent play, one would think he’s positioned to perform well for CU Friday.
The 6-foot-3 guard has averaged 9.3 points, 5.3 rebounds and 4.5 assists in his past four games. He played an integral role in Creighton’s win over Villanova. His aggressiveness late in overtime gave the Jays one last chance to force an extra period in their defeat against Providence.
Alexander has improved lately, too.
He scored 13 points on 5-of-8 shooting against DePaul two weeks ago. He played turnover-free basketball against Marquette and Providence, knocking down a 3-pointer in each contest. He seemed unfazed by the high-stakes environment at Madison Square Garden last week at the Big East tournament.
The pressure will be heightened even more Friday. Mintz and Alexander might be the X-factors for the Jays, who will have to contend with a K-State team that prefers a slower tempo and often uses its physical defense to dictate terms.
Alexander said the key will be simple. Relax and breathe. Like always. Having familiar faces in the crowd should be comforting, not nerve-wracking.
“(I’ll) just go out there and play the way I know how to play,” He said. “I don’t want to go out there and try to force things and look for things that I usually don’t do.”