Follow CBSDFW.COM: Facebook | Twitter
DALLAS (CBS 11 NEWS) – This is a very memorable week for seniors, both players and fans, at Southern Methodist University.
The Mustangs Men’s Basketball team beat the University of Connecticut on Sunday – the defending national champions – to win the American Athletic Conference title.
Later that day, the team also learned they’d made it through Selection Sunday, into the March Madness tournament for the first time since 1993.
No. 6 SMU will face No. 11 UCLA in Louisville on Thursday in the opening round.
“When we came here four years ago, I don’t think it was expected of us to do this,” said Ryan Manuel, a Houston native who plays guard on the team.
Manuel is one of just two senior players – along with Cannen Cunningham – who has been with the team since right out of high school. He remembers the atmosphere before Larry Brown took over as coach three years ago, and revitalized the program.
“We’ve made great strides,” Manuel said. “It’s been a great feeling this year.”
Manuel also remembers what it was like to be the player sitting in front of live TV cameras during Selection Sunday in 2014. Last year, the top 25 ranked Mustangs were left out of the dance.
“Last year it was tough,” he said. “We had the watch party here. We were on TV, nationally televised. It was tough that we thought we were in.”
Since then, games at Moody Coliseum have become one of the hottest tickets in Dallas. One-hundred student fans met the team as they returned home from Connecticut Sunday night.
A handful of students are also back today, having made the trip to watch the team make history in Hartford.
“It definitely was a David vs Goliath situation but it was one of the greatest sports experiences I’ve ever had,” said Cal McMillan, a junior at SMU.
Now, some of those same fans are planning trips to Kentucky for the first rounds of the NCAA Tournament.
“Three years ago, I was begging people to go to basketball games, now people beg me for tickets,” said Michael Lau, a senior SMU student with The Mob fan base.
Senior Bailee Petty agrees. “It’s really nice to see the turnaround from then to now.”
They’re hoping for a deep run from the Mustangs. The south division regional games are scheduled for Houston after Louisville.
Players like Ryan Manuel, meanwhile, are preparing for the memories yet to come. He said, “It couldn’t be written any better. This is my last year here, making it to the NCAA tournament. Winning two conference championships. It’s a great feeling, but we still have work to be done.”
(©2015 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)