SACRAMENTO, Calif. – Rhode Island fans know that when the Rams tip off against Creighton Friday afternoon in the opening round of the NCAA Championship, it will mark the program's first tournament game since 1999.
However, two Rhody players are dancing for the second time in their careers. Senior Kuran Iverson was a part of the Memphis squad that reached the Round of 32 during the 2013-14 season, while junior Stanford Robinson was with Indiana for the 2014-15 tournament.
Both players have stressed to their teammates the importance of soaking in the moment.
"A lot of people don't get to have this experience, so you want to make sure you enjoy it," Robinson said. "I want to help the guys treat this as a special experience, because it is special. But at the same time, we all want to stay focused on why we are here. There is still work to be done."
"I told a couple of guys on the team that it's the best feeling ever," Iverson said. "I went there with Memphis and we beat George Washington, then made it to the second round and played Virginia and lost. Ever since then, I've told myself I want to make it back."
Iverson said the mental part of the game comes into play more during the tournament.
"When you are in conference play, you know what the other players are going to do," he explained. "You see them all the time. These teams here, they play offense differently. They play defense differently. So we need to be able to make adjustments faster. As soon as you get out on that floor, you have to have a mindset of winning every matchup individually within the framework of what the team is doing."
For both players, this experience has been sweeter than their previous respective trips to the dance. They are significant pieces for Rhode Island. Iverson has averaged 9.4 points and 7.4 rebounds while starting every game this season. Robinson averaged 18.1 minutes and 6.1 points while also leading the team in steals.
"At Indiana, my role was kind of limited," Robinson said. "I feel like I helped that team get to the tournament, but it's a better experience here knowing that I've had a bigger role in getting us this far. When you realize you were a part of winning a conference championship – which is hard to do – it's a special feeling."
Junior Jarvis Garrett said the experience of Robinson and Iverson has been helpful for the rest of the team.
"I talked with Stan and asked him what to expect from the whole experience of March Madness," Garrett said. "He told me it was going to be an unbelievable feeling that was hard to explain. It's something every player wants to go through. Since freshman year, we've talked about winning an A-10 championship and getting to this point. Now that we are here, it really is an unbelievable feeling."
When Iverson arrived at Memphis as part of a much ballyhooed recruiting class, he envisioned playing a bigger role there than he did. It didn't wind up being a great fit for him. In Rhode Island, he found a home.
"This team means so much to me," Iverson said. "I feel like I have grown a lot, especially coming in from Memphis. When I came here, things changed dramatically for me. I knew a couple of the kids already, and I could see how strong the bonds on this team were. The guys made me feel like I was at home right from the start."
While the bond with the other players is special, it's the leadership at the top of the program that has been a huge difference for Iverson.
"Coach Hurley is a good coach and a good man," Iverson said. "He told me I was going to make it here. And since I've been here, he's spoken nothing but the truth to me. I'm committed to him, and committed to this team. I just want to do whatever it takes to keep winning games."