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Colbert: A good luck charm for basketball teams

Steamboat Today reporter and photographer Austin Colbert was able to cover the 2013 Final Four in Atlanta while attending Wichita State University.
Courtesy Photo

— When people ask me what my favorite sport is, I tend to say football. After all, I live for the fall and the cooler weather and the changing of the colors. But if you were to ask me what my favorite sports season is, I would undoubtedly say basketball.

It has nothing to do with the sport itself, as much as I do enjoy it. But in my short career as a journalist, dating back to my college days at Wichita State University in my home state of Kansas, it is basketball that has continued to provide me with the greatest rides of my life.

For five straight seasons, I have been part of something special. It’s mostly occurred at the collegiate level, but the high school level hasn’t disappointed either. It’s gotten to the point that I consider myself a good luck charm for basketball teams (alas, WSU doesn’t have a football team, so I developed no good luck there), which will hopefully excite the teams I now get to cover here in Routt County.



The journey started in 2011, when I, only a few months into my collegiate journalism career, was sent to New York City to cover the championship game of the men’s National Invitation Tournament at Madison Square Garden. My Shockers were playing in that game against Alabama, a first for the program. I spent fewer than 24 hours in The Big Apple, where I used most of my time outside the game to wander through Times Square in the rain.

WSU won the NIT that season, and I thought it would always be the highlight of my college career. I was wrong. The next season, 2012, WSU made the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2006. I traveled with the team — yes, I was on the team plane — to Portland, where I watched the Shockers get upset in the first round to Shaka Smart and Virginia Commonwealth University. Getting to cover an NCAA Tournament game was undeniably awesome, but the plane ride back was a bit somber.



For whatever reason, I returned to college for one more year in 2013. I could have graduated by then, but I needed to take classes to continue in my role as editor of my college newspaper — my avenue for covering WSU — so I took the bare minimum credit hours and returned for one more go. I still consider this the best decision of my life.

WSU made the NCAA Tournament again that season as a lowly nine seed, possibly the worst seed any team can get. I expected it to go much like the season before in Portland, a one-and-done scenario. And I was fine with that, considering I was given a free trip to Salt Lake City to cover the tournament.

Then, WSU did the improbable, blowing out No. 8 seed Pittsburgh in the first round, before stunning top-seeded Gonzaga, a team ranked No. 1 in the final Associated Press poll of the regular season, to earn a spot in the Sweet 16 for the first time since that 2006 season.

The following weeks were the most chaotic of my life. The next two rounds took us to the Staples Center in Los Angeles, where WSU defeated La Salle and Ohio State — with celebrities such as Will Ferrell in the building — to earn a spot in the Final Four. WSU’s only other Final Four came in 1965, so it was kind of a big deal.

WSU lost to eventual national champion Louisville in the semifinals, but earlier this year Sports Illustrated readers did name the Shockers the best ever Cinderella team of the modern seeding era.

I didn’t think a Final Four could be topped, so I finally left college that spring and took a job with The Hays Daily News in Hays, Kansas. My good luck rubbed off on the boys’ high school team, which went 20-0 in the regular season and finished fourth at state. The 23 games they would end up winning were the most in school history.

My luck continued throughout the 2014-15 season, during which time I had the opportunity to cover the Fort Hays State University women’s basketball team. A Division II school, the Tigers had their best season in history, going 30-4 and climbed to as high as No. 2 in the nation en route to its first Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletic Association crown.

Now, the team lost in the national tournament, finishing a few points away from the quarterfinals, but, hey, they got there. It seems my luck only continues so far into the postseason with basketball teams, but the ride getting there is always one to remember.

Now that basketball season is here again, I’m hoping my luck stretches west of the Rocky Mountains. So far this winter, it looks as if my luck has crossed over to hockey — the Steamboat Springs High School hockey team is going to be special — but I’m optimistic one of the six basketball teams I get to cover is going to make a remarkable run at a state title.

And when they do, I’ll continue to take credit for the success. After all, it can’t be coincidence, can it?

To reach Austin Colbert, call 970-871-4204, email acolbert@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @Austin_Colbert


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