UMBC alumni embracing underdog mentality in TBT 2019

 

By: Jake Peter | @jakepeter_


Four members of the 2018 UMBC Retrievers will suit up with the Hilltop Dawgs this summer

March 16, 2018 – a date that will forever live in March Madness lore. The 16th-seeded UMBC Retrievers arrived at Spectrum Center in Charlotte, NC looking to do what had been perceived as impossible… knock off a No. 1 seed in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. 

Virginia came in as the tournament’s No. 1 overall seed, got off the bus as 20.5-point favorites, and had history on their side considering 16-seeds were 0-135 all-time against 1-seeds. But, against all odds, the Retrievers dominated the ACC champions for 40 minutes and seized the national spotlight with a remarkable 74-54 win.

And then, just as quickly, it was all over. No. 9 seed Kansas State put on a defensive clinic two days later and ended the Retrievers' Cinderella run with a 50-43 victory in the Round of 32. KSU would advance to the Elite Eight before losing to Loyola-Chicago.

Now, more than a year later, four members of that legendary UMBC squad are reuniting to lead Hilltop Dawgs in TBT's Richmond Regional. Former Retrievers K.J. Maura, Jourdan Grant, Joe Sherburne, and Will Darley will bring their NCAA experience to TBT as they aim to prove the doubters wrong once again.

Sherburne, a guard who scored 14 points against Virginia and finished as the Retrievers’ fifth all-time leading scorer, described the team’s win over Virginia as a turning point for the program.

“Anyone who owned a UMBC shirt or who went there was the coolest person that anybody knew for three weeks,” said Sherburne. “People started showing up and really getting excited. Even this year, the success from last year carried over and we got on ESPNU, which wouldn’t have been possible without beating Virginia.”

 

Maura, a defensive wiz who racked up 10 points, three rebounds, and three assists against Virginia, now plays in Puerto Rico for Santeros de Aguada of the Baloncesto Superior Nacional. He'll be reunited with Will Darley, who averaged 16.2 points per game in his senior year and set the school record for threes in a game (10). The 6-foot-8 forward is currently playing in Malta.

Even though Grant is not playing professionally, he still balls on a daily basis. He's looking forward to suiting up with his brothers again this summer. 

“I still talk to those guys all the time,” said Grant. “It’s always good to get back on the court and relive some of those memories.”

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“We’ve always been able to shoot and get up and down,” he added. “We play a style of basketball that’s pretty fun to watch and pretty adaptive to the game that’s out in the world right now.”

Sherburne added that the team’s familiarity with each other will be an advantage for them this year.

“We’re still all really close, and we’re all good friends,” said Sherburne. “We play really well together and we know where everyone needs to be and what kind of shots they need to get.”

To help round out the roster, UMBC alums Sam Schwietz ('19, injured during the 2017-2018 season), Wayne Sparrow ('15), and Ray Barbosa ('08) will suit up with Hilltop Dawgs this summer.

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After spending the first three years of his career at the University of Richmond, Sparrow transferred to UMBC for the 2014-2015 season. The Baltimore native led the Retrievers in scoring with 13.8 points per game. He currently plays for the Baltimore Hawks of the ABA. Barbosa, who will also serve as coach for Hilltop Dawgs, averaged a team-high 16.5 points per game for the Retrievers in 2007-08, the year when UMBC made its first NCAA Tournament appearance in program history.

The Dawgs will also make a last-minute push to add guard Jairus Lyles, who had a game-high 28 points in the win over Virginia. He is currently playing for the G-League's Salt Lake City Stars.

While most of the roster will be experiencing TBT for the first time, Jourdan Grant brings valuable tournament experience after suiting up with the 2018 Hilltop Dawgs. The team lost to Monarch Nation (Old Dominion alumni), 72-59, in the first round of the South Regional. 

“Obviously we wanted to win, but we came up short,” said Grant, who scored a team-high 22 points. “It was good to get our feet wet, and this year we’ll probably be better.”

Even though they have a legion of fans now, the Hilltop Dawgs haven't forgotten where they come from. Almost every member of the team experienced brutal seasons at UMBC, which were highlighted by single-digit wins and no fans in the stands. They'll look to channel that underdog mentality this summer. 

“UMBC wasn’t always on the map,” said Grant. “We know what it feels like to be down, and we kept that [underdog] mentality through our greatest moments. We carry that chip on our shoulder.”