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Michael Furlong ‘15 and the Kansas State University men’s basketball team sit in the locker room after the team’s loss to the Cincinnati Bearcats. (Photo: Michael Furlong / Courtesy)

Hillsdale alum Michael Furlong ‘15 took spring break travel to a whole new level last week as he helped prepare the  Kansas State University’s men’s basketball team for the opening round of the NCAA tournament, where they fell to the Cincinnati Bearcats on March 17.

Furlong spent four years playing men’s basketball at Hillsdale, rising to team captain and Teammate of the Year before graduating in 2015. After graduation, Furlong became assistant graduate coach for the men’s basketball team at Kansas State University, where he is pursuing his master’s degree in academic advising.

In Furlong’s first year, the Wildcats made it to the NCAA championship tournament.

“It was just a roller coaster of a season,” Furlong said of Kansas State’s 21-14 year, which sent the No. 11 Wildcats to the first round of the NCAA championships against No. 6 seeded Cincinnati. 

“We found out we were facing Wake Forest on Tuesday, and flew the team to Dayton for that game, then we won that game and had to fly the team to Sacramento for our game with Cincinnati,” Furlong said. 

Furlong said every night coaches were up until at least 2:30 in the morning preparing for the next day’s practice and competition. The team spent the day traveling, sleeping when they could, practicing, and competing. 

“The championship just had incredible energy,” Furlong said. “It was amazing how many people showed up for the practices alone.” 

The energy was comparable, he said, to the energy he felt during his freshman year when Hillsdale’s men’s basketball team competed in the NCAA Division II tournament. Furlong said this year’s team was encouraged by the number of fans attending practices, people requesting autographs, and members of the press asking the players questions. 

The Wildcats’ season came to an end in the 75-61 Cincinnati game, but head coach Bruce Weber remained positive about next year’s prospects. 

“For the young guys, it was a great experience,” Weber told media after the game. “I told them after, ‘You got a taste of it. Now you want more. You’ve got to get better.’” 

For senior Wildcat forward Wesley Iwundu, the game came down to three fouls that benched him with 6:56 left in the first half.

“I definitely feel like those three fouls affected the game,” Iwundu told media. “I couldn’t help the team in the first half when they went on that run. The refs saw some things I didn’t see and didn’t agree with but it is what it is. Cincinnati was the better team today, and they came out with the win.”

Furlong said that if he had the opportunity to do things differently he would have liked to avoid playing Wake Forest earlier in the same week as the championship tournament, because, by the end of the week, coaches and players alike were exhausted. However, with one NCAA championship game behind him, he said he would be better prepared to handle a championship tournament week next year.