DALLAS — The underdogs were howling in the opening weekend of the NCAA Tournament. For the second time in March Madness history, a No. 15 seed defeated a No. 2 seed.
Oral Roberts has emerged as the tournament’s Cinderella story for its remarkable Sweet 16 run. The Golden Eagles, however, could not outlast the Arkansas Razorbacks to go to the Elite 8 in a 72-20 defeat.
Their journey to the Sweet 16 was a wonder. But the small Christian school out of Tulsa, Oklahoma, couldn’t have done it without a sharp shooter from Rockwall, Texas.
Oral Roberts is a team you’ve probably never heard of, filled with a roster of players you’re probably not familiar with. Despite their notability, the country quickly learned the pronunciation of ORU’s star player, Max Abmas.
“I heard somebody mispronounce his last name. The B is silent. It’s ace-mus,” said head coach Paul Mills.
The Jesuit Dallas alumnus averaged 24.5 points per game this season. The NCAA Tournament broadcast announcers in the opening rounds were calling him “mid-court Max” because of his limitless range. But before his shot making ability was on full display for the country, he was practicing that shot with his high school head coach, Chris Hill.
“There was a time we were doing a shooting drill here and he had shot a couple of deep threes in games. I went over and was like look if you are going to shoot from 25 feet, you should practice it,” Hill said.
Abmas impressed scouts enough to get a full ride to play for the Golden Eagles.
“For us to be able to put ORU back on the map is something we are all grateful for because we know at the end of the day it’s bigger than us,” said Abmas. “It’s about everyone who’s come through this program. We want to represent ORU to the best of our abilities."
His confidence level for his team and himself is through the roof. But his talking is done on the court — not off of it.
“Oh he’s quiet. Real quiet,” said Hill. “One of the teachers here watched an interview he did and came up to me and said that’s the most I’ve ever heard Max talk. But he is absolutely confident. He’s a quiet killer.”
He's a quiet killer with big dreams.
“As a kid being in the NCAA tournament and having an opportunity to compete is something I’ll remember for the rest of my life,” Abmas said.
“I haven't had that Final Four experience yet. I want to go to a Final Four with you guys,” said Hill.
Unfortunately, that dream will have to wait until next year. ORU can proudly look back at this season, however, for the way they upset No. 2 Ohio State and No. 7 Florida.