SPORTS: Final Four manager enjoys his shining moments

April 10, 2006

On the day after the Men's Final Four Basketball Tournament concluded, the NCAA's Greg Shaheen said two national champions had been crowned: The University of Florida in winning, and the city of Indianapolis in hosting.

For the local organizers, that was some sweet praise coming from an NCAA guy.

Sure, one could question Shaheen's objectivity. As many know, the 38-year-old is an Indianapolis/Carmel native who not that long ago was one of those local organizers. At the 1997 Indy Final Four, he was chairman of the transportation committee, a volunteer position. At the 2000 Final Four, Shaheen was the operations manager, also a volunteer position, for the organizing committee.

This time the buck (as well as CBS's bucks) stopped on his desk as the NCAA's vice president for Division I men's basketball and championship strategies.

Now, the only thing longer than Shaheen's title is the hours he puts in attending to the duties that come with the position. Emails arrive in the thousands-not monthly, but daily. He hasn't had a vacation in two years. His plans to escape last summer were wiped out when the NCAA acquired the preseason and postseason National Invitation Tournaments and his boss, Myles Brand, designated Shaheen as the NIT's president.

A BlackBerry is both his blessing and his curse. Those who know him well know it's not unusual to receive messages from him in the middle of the night. His pillows are in a nearly constant state of fluff.

But then, on those rare occasions when he finds time to sleep, this past weekend is what Shaheen has long dreamed of.

As a precocious 12-year-old in 1980, Greg stood on that elevated sidewalk outside of Market Square Arena, three stories above Market Street, looking toward Monument Circle. He was with his father, Riad, who owned Long Electric Co. It was between the national semifinal games of the 1980 Final Four, back when the event was just taking off. For the young Shaheen, it already had rocketed into the stratosphere. He turned to his father and said, "One day, I'm going to run the Final Four."

Twenty-six years later, in his hometown no less, Shaheen did just that. His boyhood dream was nurtured by Dave Frick, the former deputy mayor and Anthem executive who was instrumental in securing those early Final Fours for Indianapolis. Frick helped Shaheen become involved with the organizing committee in 1997. For Shaheen, his foot was in the door.

He opened it all the way when the NCAA announced its relocation to Indy. Shaheen became the local point person overseeing the move. He made such a positive impression that Tom Jernstedt, the NCAA's executive vice president, hired Shaheen after the Final Four in 2000 and put him in position to take on increasing responsibilities in administrating the tournament in general and the Final Four in particular.

"Greg is an unusually talented individual who has a real passion for intercollegiate athletics and his fellow man," says Jernstedt. "He has a great sense of humor, he has no ego, he wants to serve the organization for which he works and he's a visionary."

Shaheen downplays the praise.

"I'm a real small piece of the puzzle," he says. "I do little more than connect the dots for other people. I don't think what I do is particularly revolutionary."

Perhaps "evolutionary" is a better term. You couldn't help but notice that the Final Four has grown into something way beyond the basketball: The concerts on the Circle, the youth activities, Hoop City, the goingson at the Hall of Champions and multiple corporate events. It's a basketball circus. Shaheen is its ringmaster.

Shaheen's mother, Yvonne, ran the family electric business until just a couple of years ago and remains a civic leader in many areas. Shaheen's father, to whom he made that vow at the 1980 Final Four, died when Greg was a student at Indiana University.

What would his father think?

"During the tournament, they were playing video from the 1980 Final Four, and it still sends chills down my spine," Shaheen answers. "I am humbly honored to be one of the pieces that help drive an event that touches so many people one way or another. My Dad was very much about the adage that if something is worth doing, it's worth doing right. So I think he'd be real proud. And on Monday night, when they played 'One Shining Moment,'I re-connected with him on the court."

That would make it, of course, two shining moments.

Benner is associate director of communications for the Indianapolis Convention & Visitors Association and a former sports columnist for The Indianapolis Star. His column appears weekly.To comment on this column, go to IBJ Forum at www.ibj.comor send e-mail to bbenner@ibj.com.
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