No person in college basketball started off March better than Furman’s Niko Medved. The fourth-year Paladins coach experienced something powerful Wednesday morning, an event he’d never gone through before.
He’s now, at 43, a father.
At 5:30 in the morning, Alexa Ann Medved came into the world, weighing 7 pounds, 3 ounces. Biggest win Medved’s ever experienced.
“It’s like this: you can’t really describe a life force kind of thing and something that’s yours,” Medved told CBS Sports. “You can’t really describe like an instant connection that you feel. You look at it, and it’s real, and this instant connection you feel with this baby and you don’t really know why or how.”
And little Aly’s timing was perfect, even though she showed up 11 days past the due date.
Medved’s having the most interesting and unpredictable season of his life. He’s completely turned the Furman program around in four years, but even still, the team was picked fifth in the Southern Conference’s preseason poll. Only one FU player was selected to the 10-person all-league preseason team. Despite this, the Paladins won a share of the conference. It’s the first time in 26 years FU’s finished atop its league, and the last time that happened the Paladins failed to reach the NCAAs.
The most recent tournament appearance for FU: 1980. Among all programs who’ve reached at least one Big Dance, few have a longer drought than this one. And remember, the SoCon also has Chattanooga -- which made the NCAAs last season -- in addition to UNC Greensboro and Wofford. It rates as a top-13 league in college basketball this season. Furman’s been one of the bigger small-conference surprises in 2016-17. If it can earn the autobid, this might be a team you overlook, only to discover it’s pulled off one of those charming first-round upsets.
So throughout the past three weeks, Medved’s balanced coaching responsibilities, tried to guide his team to a conference championship, and all the while he had the unpredictable reality of impending parenthood. He drove his car to nearby road games, in the event he had to leave on a whim to get back for the birth. One of his staff members clutched Medved’s phone during games, just in case. When the Paladins played at home, his wife, Erica, was there in the stands even in the final days of pregancy.
She was behind the bench, giving the officials grief during Furman’s regular-season finale victory over Wofford on Saturday, 48 hours or so before heavy contractions came. Aly was still taking her time, though.
Furman earned the No. 2 seed (by way of tiebreaker) in the SoCon tournament. Because FU earned a bye, the team had a full week off from game play. Lo and behold, Erica went into early labor Monday. As she was admitted, Medved was intermittently watching, on his phone, Greensboro beat ETSU and keeping up with coaching duties.
Before long he was holding his wife’s leg and going where few men dare go.
“I was right on the equator,” Medved said. “I was involved. I didn’t know I could stomach, but I could.”
Initially there were general questions about what would happen when the baby came during the end of the season. Instead, Medved’s already got some misguided fatherly confidence.
“I feel like this whole parenting thing is easy,” he said. “I said, ‘Listen, you can come here during this time, now,’ and she came out. A piece of cake. She’s already listening to me!”
As Medved was holding Aly around 9:30 a.m. on Wednesday, and immediately taking to fatherhood, he got a call from one of his assistants. It was a message of congratulations. Not just about the baby -- but because he won Coach of the Year in the league.
“It doesn’t get better than this,” Medved said of his past few days. “It’s almost like I should resign right now.”
Medved’s been watching game tape on his laptop in between diaper changes and swaddle sessions. He spent Monday and Tuesday night in the hospital. He drives to Asheville on Thursday to prepare for the SoCon tournament.
“I’ve got a great staff, a great wife, and you learn how to prioritize things,” Medved said. “Duty calls, and I’ve got a great group of kids.”
Before he leaves, Medved’s on full-service request for his wife. Meal orders, anything. Then he gets to experience a March unlike anything he’s ever been a part of. Now he’s a father, and now he’s the coach of a team with a realistic shot of doing something that hasn’t been done in two generations at this small school in Greenville, South Carolina. For Medved, March began with a birth, and now he hopes another berth happens Monday night: a SoCon title and a ticket to the NCAAs.