BRIT FOURSOME READY FOR MADNESS

March Madness is under way with the Second Round with four Brits in the NCAA Tournament on Friday.

UK-native Gabriel Olaseni is a key part of the University of Iowa Hawkeyes team seeded seventh in the tournament. His performances off the bench this season have seen him named the Big Ten’s Sixth Man of the Year.

In addition, ex-Reading Rockets guard Luke Nelson, along with compatriot Alex Young, helped guide UC Irvine to their first ever NCAA Tournament with a win in the Big West Championship over Hawai’i.

“That was one of the things that really drew me to coming here, the fact that I could be a part of school history and doing something special at Irvine that no other team has done here before,” said Nelson, who sparked his sides’s Conference victory.

“I came here with that as my goal. That was something that Coach pushed to me.”

Iowa will face Davidson – who include Scottish centre Ali Mackay (above) – while UC Irvine take on powerhouse Louisville, three-time NCAA Tournament champions.

Both games will be available live on ESPN Player, which will have coverage through to the Final Four in Indianapolis, as well as on BT Sport/ESPN.

Meanwhile two new books published in the UK detail the intense atmosphere of the collegiate basketball scene in the States.

Rebound spotlights the University of Connecticut in the wake of the retirement of Jim Calhoun and the succession of Kevin Ollie, despite his lack head coaching experience and the mess left behind due to past academic problems.

51gPnN2-qSL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-v3-big,TopRight,0,-55_SX324_SY324_PIkin4,BottomRight,1,22_AA346_SH20_OU02_On top of that were the uncertainties of a greatly changed conference, as well as difficulties on the recruiting trail. Despite it all, a dedicated core of players stayed and won twenty hard-fought games, even with no tournament chances to hope for.

The following season, expectations for the team were modest, and the odds of a championship were slim to none. But with the tournament ban lifted, a talented group of players, led by now-Heat guard Shabazz Napier, emerged and went on to upset Michigan State to advance to the Final Four, causing millions of college hoops fans across the States to rip up their carefully constructed brackets. When they beat pre-season no. 1 Kentucky, with its “Fab 5” NBA-bound starters and celebrity coach John Calipari, to win the 2014 title, theirs became one of the great comeback stories in all of sports, a rags-to-riches triumph for a storied programme and its new head coach.

In addition, The Whistleblower follows Ed Hightower, raised in poverty in the segregated rural South, but who went on to become superintendent of schools in Edwardsville, Illinois. But it is his side-career as an elite NCAA referee (4 NCAA Championship games, 12 Final Fours) that has earned him renown.

And there’s unprecedented insights from watching the games he officiates, listening in on conversations in locker rooms and hotel lobbies, and exploring the challenges the often-hated refs must regularly confront.

Both worth a read.

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