COLUMBUS, Ohio — Will Rayman always would go anywhere for a game. He would hop on the subway from his home in Manhattan. He went upstate to prep school because he knew he could play there. He enrolled at Colgate because it felt like a good fit. And now, after all that, the game has taken him someplace special.
He is here in the NCAA Tournament, a standout, sharpshooting 6-8 junior on a team that is dancing for the first time in 23 years. That 15th-seeded Colgate will be a huge underdog to second-seeded Tennessee on Friday afternoon in the South Regional is part of the journey and all of the fun.
“Honestly, we’re really just trying to play free,” Rayman said at a news conference, itself a novelty for his team. “We know that we’re a really good team and we’re just trying to soak up the whole experience and play with as much confidence as possible.”
Coach Matt Langel, who once played for overachieving Penn in the tournament, said, “Amongst other things, I think what makes March Madness so special is that literally everybody stops what they’re doing and turns on the TV or has it on the Internet to see who’s doing well. And it can be a contagious thing.”
What also makes the tournament special is the different paths that players have taken to reach it.
Rayman has loved basketball all his life, having inherited that gene from his father, Graham, a former Division III player for Wooster. “He could jump out of the gym and he’s a lefty,’’ Will said. “He could shoot a little bit. He introduced me to the game, he taught me how to shoot.”
His dad, a career newspaper reporter who covered 9/11 and other big stories for Newsday, also introduced Will to New York’s basketball geography.
“Dyckman Park, Rucker Park, West Fourth Street in The Cage. Dyckman was my favorite one,” the Colgate forward said. “We’d hop on the E to Queens or the 1 to Rucker. We’d go everywhere.”
He never shied away, even when he realized he was not the greatest prodigy. “I would say AAU was kind of tough on me in the city. There are some great players in the city,” he said. “I wasn’t ‘there’ yet. So I ended up going the prep school route and it was great for me.”
Four years at Millbrook outside of Poughkeepsie and a graduate year at New Hampton in New Hampshire prepared him to be the Patriot League’s rookie of the year in 2017 and to join teammate Jordan Burns on the league’s all-star second team this season (teammate Rapolas Ivanauskas, a Northwestern transfer, was player of the year). His whole life has prepared him for this thrill.
Rayman is an education major, joking that his dad warned him to stay out of journalism or publishing (his mom, Brownen Hruska, is an accomplished novelist and head of Soho Press). The young man has done a lot of learning in and through basketball. Friday represents a new, interesting chapter.
“There’s really nothing to be nervous about,” he said. “We’re playing in front of a bunch more people than we do at Cotterell Court, but for us, it’s the same game.”