Seven years ago today, Barton College and its hometown hero Anthony Atkinson won the 2007 NCAA Division II national championship in ridiculous fashion.
Taking on undefeated defending national champion Winona State University in the finals, the Bulldogs were the ultimate underdogs, too small in every way. Predictably, they trailed by 7 with 45 seconds left, and the game was all but Winona’s.
Then Ant led perhaps the greatest comeback in all of college basketball championship history, and Barton went from ordinary Division II unknown to the most celebrated team of the year.
That game was the phenomenal culmination of Ant’s heart-wrenching saga. From age six, Ant lived for two things: a future in basketball, and to see the face of God. Along the way, he became an electrifying talent, proven in battle against the likes of Chris Paul and Rajon Rondo, but his life didn’t play out like those future NBA superstars, like everyone thought it would.
His journey demanded great sacrifice, over time claiming his tears, his blood, and ultimately, his dreams.
I was a sophomore when Barton won that game, and a senior when I began writing the book, and it was published only about a year after I graduated. And I consider myself insanely fortunate to have been the one to get to write it. Ultimately, The Edge of Legend became about an incredible story of faith and basketball, but it’s also about a son and his father, generational curses and broken dreams, and a relentless pursuit of redemption.
I don’t tell people that this is the greatest college basketball national championship win ever because I wrote the book about it. No, I wrote the book about it because this is the greatest college basketball national championship ever. Coupled with Barton’s backstory, not to mention Ant’s backstory—I can’t believe this isn’t a Hollywood blockbuster already. To quote the great Will Leitch, whose writing about the game in the New York Times that year inspired the title of the book: “If this had happened in Division I, it would have been legend.”