The publication’s annual “March Madness” issue features a collage of one player from each of the 68 teams invited to this year’s NCAA Tournament — a yearly honor for a few.
The familiar face this year belongs to former North Meck High standout C.J. Bryce, a sophomore guard at UNC Wilmington, which is making its second straight tournament appearance.
Bryce, the Colonial Athletic Association Tournament MVP after averaging 19 points per game during the Seahawks’ three-day run to another “Big Dance,” learned of his cover inclusion through an onslaught of phone buzzes, which haven’t stopped since.
“I think the athletic department saw it first, and they re-tweeted it,” said Bryce. “I started getting texts and other messages congratulating me. It’s been pretty crazy, definitely an experience I’ll always remember.”
For UNCW, Bryce is a worthy representative.
As a sophomore, Bryce is the Seahawks’ leading scorer (17.6 ppg) on a team with four starters averaging double figures. A CAA All-Rookie selection last season while averaging 10.1 points and 4.2 rebounds, Bryce took on an offseason challenge from head coach Kevin Keatts to become a “league problem.” He became one, earning first-team All-CAA honors.
“The first step was changing my body and getting stronger.” said Bryce, who scored a career-high 28 in a win over Towson. “Then I really focused on mixing my game up — going to my left hand more, corner jumper, which really needed a lot of work. It was things Coach knew could cause matchup problems.”
After waiting nearly a week to learn its tournament fate, Bryce and UNCW landed a No. 12 seed and a matchup against No. 5 Virginia — a second straight NCAA Tournament foe from the Atlantic Coast Conference — in the East Region.
Tip-off is set for 12:40 p.m. Thursday on TruTV.
“After last year, we kind of wanted another big team like that,” said Bryce, referencing the 93-85 tournament loss to Duke. “I think we’ll be ready for their defense. (College of) Charleston runs something similar and we’ve seen that three times this year. We’re excited for the challenge.”