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UMBC's President Talks About His School's Historic Basketball Win

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

And now we bring you news from the world of college basketball, March Madness. Last night saw one of the craziest games ever in the NCAA tournament. For the first time ever in the men's tournament, a team seated 16th - for tournament purposes that means last - be a No. 1-seeded team. The University of Maryland, Baltimore County knocked off the top ranked team in the country, the University of Virginia, and it wasn't even close. In fact, it was a 20-point blowout. To talk more about this, we called Freeman Hrabowski III. He is the president of UMBC, and he's with us now from Charlotte where the game was played. Welcome. Thank you so much for joining us. Congratulations.

FREEMAN HRABOWSKI III: Thank you, Michel. Glad to be with you.

MARTIN: So, Mr. President, we've actually spoken with you a number of times to talk about things like STEM education, which is science, technology, engineering and math. And you've been known for expanding the number of minority students getting advanced degrees, for example. You're nationally known for that. I didn't even think you knew anything about basketball.

(LAUGHTER)

HRABOWSKI III: I know about math, so I'm not going to claim knowing a lot about basketball, but I do know a lot about my students. And my students and colleagues are always advising me on sports and on basketball and things like that.

MARTIN: So how did you - I mean, be honest. Were you expecting this?

HRABOWSKI III: I was expecting my students to give it everything they had. I was expecting them to show the country that you can come from a middle-sized place and be highly, highly competitive if you give it all you have. Who knows what the results would have been? We knew what everybody in the country was saying, but we believed in our players and our coach that they would show just how much they could do, and that's what they did.

MARTIN: Well, let's talk about the standout from last night, the player everybody's talking about, Jairus Lyles. He dropped 28 points. He grabbed four rebounds. He got three assists. And to add to the deliciousness, both of his parents are graduates of the University of Virginia. And I just, you know, have to ask, you know, how is he doing today, and how are his parents doing?

HRABOWSKI III: You know, it's amazing. His mother is unbelievable in her ability to rise to the occasion to give all of us support, quite frankly, and to work with the coach and others in being supportive of him. And Jairus is - he's what you want to see in any son. He is with the humility and yet the confidence, the poise. You see it. But he's also and this is for me really important. He has a 4.0. He is a serious student, and that's the excitement for us about this win that we've worked very hard to balance academics and athletics, and it's going well.

MARTIN: The Wichita Eagle newspaper put together the total basketball budgets for every team in the tournament. UVA spends about $8.5 million a year. And you probably know this because you're the president of the university, UMBC spends less than 20 percent of that, and I wonder if that says anything to you?

HRABOWSKI III: Oh, we knew from the beginning that we were up against the richest university, public university, one of the richest and the oldest in the country. And we have great respect for them. And I had said on a panel with my colleague and friend, the president of UVA, that they've got all those years, that money. And Mr. Jefferson, what we had and what we still have is that grit that comes from working in middle class and the belief that you can do all things with that hard work and perseverance, quite frankly. So, yes, we all want more money. And we know money does make a difference, make no mistake about that. But there's something to be said about defying the odds and going against whatever people think would happen and just showing that nobody defines who we are. That's what's so inspiring.

MARTIN: That's Freeman Hrabowski III. He's the president of the University of Maryland Baltimore County. The school's basketball team beat the University of Virginia, the No. 1-ranked team on Friday in the first round of the men's NCAA tournament. That's never happened before in the men's tournament. And in addition to being the president of UMBC, Mr. Hrabowski is the author of "Holding Fast To Dreams: From The Civil Rights Movement To STEM Achievement." Mr. President, thanks so much for talking to us.

HRABOWSKI III: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.