Giannis Antetokounmpo is busting Fresno State’s brackets.
The championship of Fresno State’s “64 Bulldogs” virtual tournament is Saturday, and there is a very good chance 15th-seeded Pat Riddlesprigger will upset Marvin Ely. Now, you are probably asking who is Pat Riddlesprigger and how could a player who averaged 7 points and 26 minutes a game topple a two-time WAC player of the year?
That’s where the NBA’s reigning MVP comes in.
See, Riddlesprigger’s daughter Mariah is Antetokounmpo’s longtime girlfriend. When Fresno State began its Twitter tournament, featuring matchups of Bulldogs players from all eras, Antetokounmpo chimed in.
Milwaukee Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo is standing up for Pat Riddlesprigger, the father of his longtime girlfriend. (Photo: Ron Chenoy, USA TODAY Sports)
“My vote goes to Pat Riddlesprigger!” Antetokounmpo said, retweeting Sunday’s first-round matchup against No. 2 seed Courtney Alexander to his million Twitter followers.
My vote goes to Pat Riddlesprigger! https://t.co/IWOuGnbwxO
Within seconds, the rout was on. Riddlesprigger trounced Alexander with almost 85% of the votes. Antetokounmpo has weighed in with each round, and you can probably guess the results.
“Each time he did it, Pat was down 80 to 20% in the Twitter polls and it flipped the script,” said Stephen Trembley, who is Fresno State’s director of new media and had the idea for the tournament.
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“There were so many votes coming in you didn’t see the (immediate) update because Twitter needed time to be able to register those votes,” Trembley added. “You just saw the significant chunks.”
The only real challenge came in Thursday’s Final Four, when Riddlesprigger was up against top-seeded Paul George.
“Tough one but we can do it,” Antetokounmpo said on Twitter, adding a muscle emoji and the hashtag VotePat.
Tough one but we can do it 💪🏽 #VotePat Let’s go!!!!! https://t.co/xux8iTMKVx
Sure enough, Antetokounmpo got his revenge for George posterizing him in a January 2019 game against the Oklahoma City Thunder. Riddlesprigger finished with just over 66% of the votes, earning him a spot in the title game with Ely.
“Everybody loves a Cinderella run,” Trembley joked.
With much of the country under stay-at-home orders because of COVID-19 and no live sports, Trembley created the “64 Bulldogs” tournament as a way to engage Fresno State’s fan base and remind people of highlights in the program’s history.
It was not meant to be a “greatest player” vote, Trembley said. Most of the Bulldogs’ best are included, yes, but there are also players who embody those teams that stage upsets and make March Madness so captivating.
“It’s been fun to see how passionate our fans are,” Trembley said.
“It was designed to really be a way to engage our fans and hopefully get in front of a few more eyeballs,” he added, “and we’ve been fortunate to have some success.”
Fresno State’s men’s basketball Twitter account has had 500,000 impressions this week – the tournament began Sunday – and Trembley said there’s been an increase in followers. The pinned video from when George’s number was retired in November is getting two to three times more views, Trembley said.
While Antetokounmpo isn’t responsible for all that, he’s certainly played a big part.
Trembley was aware of Riddlesprigger’s connections when he was creating the bracket. But Riddlesprigger has also remained a fixture in the Fresno community, currently serving as the athletics manager for the Fresno Unified School District.
And while he might seem a shoo-in for the title with Antetokounmpo’s endorsement, current Fresno State coach Justin Hutson isn’t so sure.
“That Red Wave loves Melvin Ely. They really do,” Hutson said, referring to the fan base. “Most of them are a little older so I don’t know if they’re on social media as much. But if the Red Wave gets out, Pat’s going to have a fight on his hands.”
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