Entering the weekend of the Final Fours, school pride emerges at ESPN

With the NCAA men’s and women’s Final Fours beginning play this weekend, alumni and “super fans” of the schools remaining in the tournament seem to be evident everywhere. Even at ESPN, commentators such as Prim Siripipat – seen snapping a selfie with fellow Duke alum and ESPN college basketball commentator Shane Battier in the Tweet above – succumb to March Madness.

There are countless ESPN employees and guests of the company who would qualify as especially ardent fans of the schools still vying for the 2015 Division I basketball championships. Front Row presents a sampling of thoughts from a few of these fanatics entering the men’s and women’s semifinals.

Wisconsin super fan Andy North balances title hopes, Masters assignment

Commentators Andy North and Tom Rinaldi.
Golf analyst Andy North (l) and reporter Tom Rinaldi.
(Andy Hall/ESPN)

ESPN golf analyst Andy North’s beloved Wisconsin Badgers take on undefeated Kentucky in one NCAA men’s Final Four semifinal tonight, and North will be right there with them in Indianapolis.

The catch for North comes if Wisconsin beats Kentucky and advances to Monday night’s championship game. North is due at Augusta National Golf Club early Tuesday morning to begin SportsCenter reports from the Masters Tournament.

If he remains in Indy through Monday night, he has a plan.

“I will absolutely be at SportsCenter 8 a.m. Tuesday morning,” North said. “And I told [ESPN host] Mike Tirico if we get a championship, I’m wearing the hat all day Tuesday on SportsCenter.”

The two-time U.S. Open champion, who is a Wisconsin native and lives in Madison, Wis., though he went to the University of Florida on a golf scholarship, is realistic about his team’s chances.

“There’s a long way to go before we get to there,” he said. “The fact that you’re there, it’s four teams, you have a chance. If you can play well and get some breaks, who knows what’ll happen.”

North is friends with Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers and his fiancée, actress Olivia Munn, and the three sat together at last weekend’s regional games. A popular Internet photo showed North by-passing Rodgers to high five Munn at one point in the Wisconsin win over Arizona.

“Having fun with friends is what it’s all about,” said North, who holds an annual golf event to raise funds for the University of Wisconsin Carbone Cancer Center. Rodgers has played in the event all six previous years.

“He’s been a great supporter of everything Wisconsin,” North said. “He’s totally embraced living in this state and it’s been awesome.”
– By Andy Hall

Men’s Tournament

Michigan State
Jemele Hill, co-Host of ESPN2’s His & Hers, senior writer, Class of 1997: “Unfortunately, I can’t enjoy the week as much as I normally would. It pains me to admit this, but I had my school losing to Virginia. Now I feel like I don’t have the right to cheer. It’s made me reassess what’s important in life…”

Tony Delk, men’s college basketball analyst, SEC Network, Class of 1996: Delk has expressed his pride in the 2015 Wildcats via Twitter @tdelk00.

Prim Siripipat, anchor and co-host of Spain & Prim on ESPN Radio, Class of 2003: “I am so excited to see my Blue Devils back in the Final Four! For crucial games like this, I can never watch it at a sports bar. I’ll be on my sofa, home alone, so I can focus and root for my alma mater!”

Leah LaPlaca, Vice President, Talent Planning and Negotiation, Class of 1995:
“Everyone is talking about the freshmen, but our new labradoodle puppy (Cameron) is the reason Duke made it to Indy.”

Katina Arnold, Vice President, Communications, Class of 1995: “I’ve been playing Wisconsin fight songs all week and my family’s about to lose it!”

Women’s Tournament

Len Elmore, men’s college basketball analyst, Class of 1974: “Of course, having the Terp women competing in The Final Four for a second national basketball title is a source of great pride for me as an alum. But the poise, character and class they have shown as student-athletes throughout this trek are even greater elements of which all alumni can be proud to be Terps.”

South Carolina
Rosalyn Durant, Vice President of College Sports Programming, Class of 1999: “I hear [singer Darius Rucker] is offering a free concert in Columbia if our Gamecocks win. That’s worth a trip home!”

And, indeed, the Grammy-winning singer and aspiring SportsCenter anchor (who would most like to share the desk with Scott Van Pelt, he said) is offering the Lady Gamecocks extra incentive:

Darius Rucker, frequent ESPN Car Wash guest, Honorary Doctorate Of Music from USC, 2013:
“If the Lady Gamecocks win the national championship, I’m giving a free concert for all USC students. [The concert would be in] The Horseshoe – I’ve already got the location picked out!”

Sue Bird, college basketball analyst, Class of 2002: “I’m proud to be called a Husky. That pride runs deep and to be honest, has nothing to do with championships. The people surrounding the program and the players you are connected to is what makes UConn great. The fact that we’ve got nine titles and are going for a 10th is the just a bonus. And also allows for us to talk a little more trash than others (wink wink).”

Notre Dame
Mike Golic, co-host Mike & Mike, Class Of 1985: Rucker was a guest of Mike & Mike earlier this week. While Golic and Rucker are still in the negotiation stages of what to wager on Sunday’s Notre Dame-USC semifinal, Rucker told Front Row: “One of us is going to have to do something really uncool . . . I’d [wager] a show at Notre Dame if he’d wager that he’d have to take another [Kim Kardashian tribute] picture like that for sure.”

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