David Cloninger

Don’t worry, Gamecock fans. Be happy

I want you all to do yourselves a favor. Now that South Carolina has ended a 13-year drought of NCAA Tournament appearances, I want you to enjoy this moment.

Don’t think about the opponent. Don’t think about the location. Don’t think about seed or odds.

And don’t think about the Gamecocks’ NCAA Tournament history, which will be discussed ad nauseam the rest of this week. I know there are some of you who saw the Gamecocks win an NCAA Tournament game once upon a time, and I know there are far more of you who haven’t.

Now that USC’s name has appeared on that screen with the rest of college basketball’s power brokers, enjoy and celebrate this moment for this team.

These guys were gypped last year. They knew this year was going to be judged on whether it ended in the NCAA Tournament. That was never going to be easy to do, especially after the schedule was strengthened, they lost three seniors who had given so much and a few others who made bad decisions.

They started so well and then, because it’s USC basketball, saw their best player get suspended. That was the first hurdle, but they cleared it, and as they approached February they were a lock for the NCAA Tournament. Then more tough times hit.

Yet they found a way to get through them, to persevere, sometimes winning ugly but winning. And when they beat Mississippi State on Senior Night, they knew they were in no matter what.

Now they get the reward every team fights for and only 68 get. So many times, it’s been teams other than USC, the Gamecocks forced to wait long stretches between appearances.

But this year, they’re in.

And that means that just like the other 67 teams, they have a chance to win the next six.

Revel in the grin that split SEC Player of the Year Sindarius Thornwell’s face, a visage that will go down in history after he gave everything he had and more to this team after his suspension. Marvel how coach Frank Martin, in five years, turned around a 10-win group of forgotten souls and produced 47 victories in two seasons.

I’ll be enjoying it as much as the rest of you, because it is personal – for 21 years, I’ve waited to cover the NCAA Tournament, the absolute best sporting event on the planet. I’m finally going, and as a bonus, I get to write the end to what’s been an outstanding story – with perhaps a few more chapters before the conclusion.

The Gamecocks fought for this, earned this, and they deserve to have this moment for congratulations, not for, “Well, you’ve still got to do _____ ” or “Let’s break the streak this time.”

For the first time since 2004, USC has unearthed a dusty pair of dancin’ shoes that was long forgotten, and perhaps this is the year that USC puts its name among the cardiac pack and Butlers and miracles that make March so mad.

The only thing wrong about this wonderful day is it came a year later. It ruined what should have been one of the best days in program history, and it did the same to a great ending to a newspaper column.

The Gamecocks’ intro video before home games last year was set to Jay-Z’s “Public Service Announcement (Interlude).” Yet the opening line resonates a year later.

“Allow me to re-introduce myself.”

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