Chuma Okeke does not say much in the team, but delivered one of the last motivating parts before Auburn gave an account of his career in the NCAA Tournament.
Of course, everyone laughed because that's what everyone does when Chuma says something.
However, Chuma was not kidding. This was serious, he thought. This was important. That's why he saved it just before Auburn's first round match against the state of New Mexico.
The NCAA Tournament Selection Committee slapped Auburn with a fearsome five seeds, which means there were many people across the country who chose Auburn to exit the tournament the first day. It was a bad showdown for the Tigers. Auburn also had to travel to Salt Lake City for the first two rounds, which means they were playing on the lift against a team accustomed to it. Besides that, the hour of the tip (11:30 a.m. local) favored the Aggies of lower seeds.
However, Chuma knew he had the perfect words to tip the scale of intangibility in Auburn's favor. Motivation is powerful, and Chuma had the silver bullet.
"Obama chose us to lose this game," he said with all the seriousness of a speech before the war.
Chuma's teammates looked at each other in the group and stopped. Anfernee McLemore could not keep a straight face.
"We were just laughing," McLemore said, "but we were also saying:" OK, we have to prove him wrong, we have to break his support already. "
Jared Harper of Auburn, Bryce Brown noting as "the best backyard in the nation"
Bryce Brown and Jared Harper have gone from under-recruited guards outside the Atlanta area to the cornerstones of Auburn's career to their first Final Four, making their case be considered the nation's first backyard.
Since then, Auburn has been breaking brackets, and having fun at every opportunity. The Tigers are now in the Final Four for the first time in the history of the program, and play Saturday against a Virginia seed in Minneapolis (score 5:09 p.m. CT). In a state where college level football is expected every year, this team led by the Auburn basketball team has been a welcome reminder that success should be appreciated every step of the way.
Alabama has achieved the last four in college football every season, but those incredible successes have not come close to matching the kind of energy surrounding the unlikely glory of Auburn in this NCAA Tournament. More recently, the Alabama Department of Sports implemented a system of loyalty points to encourage students to attend regular season soccer games, and then stay until the end if they leave.
The price of success should not be apathy.
Alabama played last year in the college football Playoff championship game, but nobody remembers the incredible victory at the Orange Bowl against the best player in the country (Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray), nor the unique circumstances of the SEC. championship game. Throughout this offseason, the focus has been on losing by Alabama's loss in the championship game.
Should not Alabama be happy to be there every year?
Some people will find that offensive question. It is badumed that Alabama must be there every year, they will say. No, they are not.
The pressure is somewhat worse for Auburn football. Is there anything that makes chestnut soccer fans happy this season? They want to fire the coach every year if they do not win 10 games. It has created a toxic atmosphere that directly affects the team's success. Meanwhile, the basketball team has thrived in the role of the non-favorites.
I am not saying that the state soccer teams should lower their standards, but the appreciation of the incredible winning streak of this Auburn basketball team has been refreshing and has provided a much needed perspective. It has given the fans a memorable experience after another.
First, there was a 20-point victory against Tennessee in the SEC Tournament championship game. Sown fifth, Auburn was a late occurrence when entering the tournament. The crown of the league helped inspire the creation of an Auburn fan of the parody song "We Have Got Jared," which has now become the team's peculiar anthem during the NCAA Tournament of Auburn.
After the victory against Kansas, Auburn's bodyguard, Samir Doughty, uttered the phrase "Why not us?" Now he's on T-shirts and has come to define Auburn's collective team spirit.
"Do it for Chuma" became the battle cry after the victory against North Carolina. Chuma, of course, injured his left knee during the game. Auburn used the loss of his best player as motivation, and Chuma entered the Kansas City Sprint Center in a wheelchair just after halftime against Kentucky.
His teammates surrounded Chuma after the win in overtime, and Auburn coach Bruce Pearl gave his injured player one of the game's nets as a souvenir.
Why does Auburn's size and style scare the Virginia coach?
Virginia badistant coach Brad Soderberg was in charge of Auburn's exploration of the Final Four.
What a trip it has been since the first victory in Salt Lake City against the state of New Mexico. Looking back, that post-game celebration was the funniest of all. An opposing player was missing two free throws with 1.1 seconds remaining for Auburn to avoid losing. Afterwards, there was a lot of lightness for everyone.
"We were just like, 'Thank you, Obama,'" McLemore said with a smile.
Joseph Goodman is a columnist for the Alabama Media Group. He is on twitter @JoeGoodmanJr.