Here are some players to watch during March Madness, the NCAA tournament that starts with 64 men's college basketball teams this weekend and ends with one national champion on March 29.
- Sedric Webber, College of Charleston
His parents belong to the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ of the Apostolic Faith, and have never watched him play in a game. According to Mr. Webber, they believe competition is wrong, but they left the decision about playing up to him. "At first it hurt a little bit," the 6-foot-6-inch forward said. "But that's what they do. That's their religion." Mr. Webber says his family also forbids drinking, dancing, watching television, or listening to music: "It's so strict, sometimes I can't understand it. I abide it, but there's some things I can't understand." Four years ago Mr. Webber's younger brother, Kemuel, drowned in an off-limits hotel pool. Sedric and Kemuel were supposed to go to church that day, but Sedric went to play basketball and Kemuel went swimming. Sedric Webber now says, "I want to dedicate my career to him."
- Steve Francis, Maryland
Mr. Francis landed at the University of Maryland after attending six different schools over six years. Injuries, financial problems, and academic ineligibility have plagued his career. Also, abandoned by his father as a small child, he was devastated during his senior year in high school when his mother died of cancer. He feared he could not "face anything without her," but time has partially healed that wound. Still, before he shoots each free throw, he rubs the tattoo on his right arm. The tattoo displays a four-inch cross with the words "In Memory" above it and "Brenda," his mother's name, in the middle.
- Khalid El-Amin, Connecticut
This sophomore is a fiery, emotional leader as well as a quick but strong, torpedo-like point guard, with an arsenal of spin moves, crossovers, and spot-up jumpers. Off the court Mr. El-Amin, a Muslim, has used other spin moves. He was married, divorced, and a father by age 17. His second child was born just this past December. Opposing fans have tried to rile him by yelling out "deadbeat dad" at critical moments, to which he responded: "That really hurt me. That's not true at all. I take care of my kids." Opposing fans have also taunted Mr. El-Amin about his weight, yelling out names like "doughboy," "pudge," or "fatboy." When Connecticut played Pittsburgh, opposing fans waved a whole pizza in the air. In that game Mr. El-Amin laughed last, hitting the game-winning shot with two seconds left, then jumping on the scorer's table and pumping his fist to the crowd, until Coach Jim Calhoun had to drag him down.
- Baron Davis, UCLA
As Mr. Davis grew up in South Central L.A., he made basketball his ticket out. He was Pac 10 Freshman of the Year, only to tear his anterior cruciate ligament during the NCAA tournament. He spent the next eight months working hours each day rehabbing his knee, and says his experience in poverty kept him from giving up: "From where I grew up, it helped me a lot. You got to be tough, you got to be strong." The point guard came back to the court in December stronger than ever, and showing, as his coach put it, "patience, judgment and discretion."
-Nicole Gealogo, Brent Stoller, Magnus Rayos, Matt Craig