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March 18, 2009
by Ryan Hudson
Everyone has been busy this week, studying and filling out their brackets (don't forget to join our pool!). Heck, even President Obama is on ESPN right now, giving us his picks (he really seems to know his stuff, even if he went with few upsets). March Madness has become as American as apple pie. Which is why Syracuse forward Kristof Ongenaet has no idea what it is.
Ongenaet, a senior forward for the Orange, grew up in Belgium, where it was a struggle just to catch a few NBA games each year. “Maybe if you had a special channel, you had a couple NBA games a week that you could watch,” Ongenaet said. “It was real late because of the hour difference ... Before I came to America, maybe I saw 10 NBA games and except for that there’s nothing I really knew about it.” He didn't see his first NCAA Tournament until he moved to America to play basketball, just two years ago.
On Sunday, he watched the NCAA’s Selection Show along with the rest of his teammates, but lacked their familiarity with what was happening. The SU players erupted at the sight of Syracuse’s name as the No. 3 seed, so Ongenaet just followed in kind. When in Rome … even if it’s Rome, N.Y. … do as the Romans do, right?
“Seeing those guys cheering, that’s a good thing,” Ongenaet said. “So I was cheering, too. Going with the flow and getting on the bandwagon."
"I didn’t know what it was about. I was just learning,’’ Ongenaet said. His Cuesta teammates tried to explain. ‘‘They were telling me how big it was. Now being in it is amazing. I’ll get to feel how big it is. Even compared to the NBA, it’s huge."
He says he choose to Syracuse because he wanted a shot at a National Championship. Now he just needs to figure out exactly how the whole thing works. ‘‘I don’t really know 100 percent everything,’’ Ongenaet said. "The third seed, the fourth seed, the fifth seed. I’m not really sure what all that means."
With doe-eyed naivety like that, how can you not root for them?
Thanks to reader James for the tip.