Nittany Lions, Tigers and Bearcats, oh my!
Check out some of the mascots from around the college hoops world.
Costumes, which can cost thousands of dollars, get careful treatment. The Nittany Lion outfits at Penn State have been handmade by a local tailor for about 20 years. When a feather falls from The Hawk during a game, it's quickly collected.
Mascots also must be on their best behavior, because they are one of the school's most visible representatives. Sometimes, strange things happen anyway.
At a women's NCAA tournament game in 2006, the Stanford tree — the school's unofficial mascot — was ejected for not leaving the court fast enough after halftime. At the men's 1994 Final Four, Arizona's wildcat mascot got tangled with Arkansas' razorback — a red, furry pig — resulting in a knee injury and a lawsuit.
A more common challenge is keeping up with classes. Like players, mascots also feel the pressure at tournament time.
"It can be pretty exhausting,'' said Ohio State's Aten, a biology/premed major who had to study for exams on immunobiology and Greek art and archaeology, and write a paper on global organ trafficking. "You have to figure out when you're going to type papers or study between games.''
Some schools give their mascots stipends. The Hawk at Saint Joseph's gets tuition covered — a $32,710 benefit for his dual role as team manager and mascot. Penn State's Nittany Lion also gets a free ride.
Some even turn their mascot days into careers, going on to fill costumes for professional teams.
And like every player, they dream of making the Final Four.
Jason Zicchino got to do it in 2000, filling the role of Sparty while Michigan State beat Florida to win the national championship. The experience overwhelmed him.
"I just tried to take a step back for every game and appreciate the moment,'' said Zicchino, who works in the insurance industry in Texas. "By the time we got to the national championship game, I was in tears. I was crying in the last three minutes of the game.''
Every mascot would love to get the costume wet that way.
Duke coach said that after winning his second gold medal in men's basketball would be his Team USA finale. That may not be the case anymore.
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