A typical Friday afternoon in the library does not include dimmed lights, a dropped-down screen and a pack of students and teachers raising a ruckus with occasional outbursts of cheers and groans.
But all of that happened on Friday, March 21, when former Country Day basketball star Robbie Lemons, ‘10, made his NCAA tournament debut with the Stanford basketball team,when they played against New Mexico in the round of 64. A live streaming of the game was projected in the library.
“Come on, Robbie!” shouted history teacher Daniel Neukom, clapping his hands loudly when Lemons went up to the line to make two free throws.
Stanford was barely ahead, 54-52, and there were only 25 seconds left in the game.
Everyone’s eyes were transfixed on the screen. Lemons dribbled the ball and looked up at the basket. His arms were raised above his forehead and his knees slightly bent, when, with a small upward thrust and a flick of the wrist, he released the ball into the air, just as he had four years ago at the school.
Lemons, a senior who’s about to receive his economics degree, then knocked down the second free throw, giving Stanford the decisive lead that it needed.
The students and teachers in the library went crazy, as did three alumni—Paul Kessler, ’11, Miles Bennett-Smith, ’09 and Zach Eltorai, ‘09—who were among the roaring crowd at the game in St. Louis.
Kessler, who attends the University of Missouri, drove an hour and a half to see his old teammate live in action.
“On Sunday I saw that Stanford was going to play in St. Louis, so I texted Robbie right away and said ‘You better know that I’m going to be in St. Louis to watch you play,’” Kessler said.
Kessler then phoned Eltorai, who is at Washington University in St. Louis. Eltorai told Kessler he was 100 percent definitely going to the game. The two met up with Bennett-Smith at the game, who traveled St. Louis from Palo Alto, where he is working as the managing editor of The Stanford Daily newspaper.
“This is literally a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see my friend and classmate play in the NCAA tournament for my alma mater,” Bennett-Smith said.
Kessler said they were on the fourth row from the court and had a great view of the intense game.
“It was a close game—very exciting and nerve-wracking,” Kessler said. “I think it’s the most nerve-wracking basketball game I’ve been to since Missouri played Kansas, a huge rival, in my freshman year.
“I really wanted Stanford to win and make sure Robbie advanced to the next round of the tournament.”
Kessler said he noticed how different a player Lemons was from his high-school years.
“His game is at a totally different level than in high school,” he said.
“In high school, he was mainly the point guard and had the ball in his hands a lot, but now in college he plays off the ball and makes shots on the court.”
Bennett-Smith said he was extremely proud of Lemons’s performance.
“I’m very proud that he hit two clutch free throws,” Bennett-Smith said. “It was fantastic to get to see him playing in front of a huge crowd in such a big game.”
“I’ve seen him in a lot of big games on campus and in the conference tournament, but this is the NCAA tournament; it’s national television with everyone watching and following the game.
“I mean, this is my friend busting millions of people’s brackets, and I was there to see it live—that’s pretty awesome in my opinion.”
According to Bennett-Smith, who talked to Lemons after the game, Lemons said his two free throws were some of the biggest free throws of his life, and he just tried to stay focused. Bennett-Smith also said Lemons was so happy for the team to move on.
Stanford will next play Kansas on Sunday, March 23, in St. Louis as well. Kessler said Lemons’s parents had booked a one-way ticket for the game and were thus staying for the round of 32.
Kessler said he is unable to stay due to a scheduled flight back to Sacramento. Bennett-Smith, who also had a flight scheduled, decided to change it.
“If we win, it’s an amazing upset. If we lose, I got to see all of the seniors’ final college game,” Bennett-Smith said. “Either way, it will be worth way more than the cost of any flight change—it’s priceless.”
Back in the library, relieved and smiling faces were watching the game as the clock ticked down to zero.
When the buzzer went off, concluding Lemons’s first showing in March Madness, teacher Patricia Fels, a Stanford alumna, raised her arms, sipped her extra-large light lemonade from McDonald’s, and at Neukom’s request, celebrated her alma mater’s victory with a Stanford Dollies’ dancing routine.
(Video courtesy of Paul Kessler)