It’s been a big few weeks for NC State basketball, what with the team’s exciting run to the Sweet 16 and the news yesterday that the team finished in the top 20 in one end-of-the-season poll.
And then, of course, there was Staats Battle, a freshman walk-on from Raleigh who was the winner of an ESPN online contest to pick the “Coolest Name” among the players in the NCAA basketball tournament.
It’s been a whirlwind couple of weeks for Battle, who had fun watching as thousands of people voted to keep advancing him through the online bracket. The news came Tuesday that Battle had won the championship match against Marquette’s Vander Blue.
“It’s amazing to think that that many people have seen my name out there,” Battle told us in an interview today. “Just from being a regular high school student last year, a walk-on not getting that much attention this year, and now everyone pretty much knows my name.”
Battle is named after his father, and says he has always enjoyed his distinctive name. But he says he could always count on teachers mispronouncing his name (it rhymes with dots) on the first day of school and that no one is able to spell it correctly. When he orders from Char-Grill, a popular take-out spot in Raleigh, Battle uses the name “Scott” to avoid the confusion of someone trying to read and call out his given name.
Battle says he first heard he was a contestant in ESPN’s “Coolest Name” contest from Twitter mentions and text messages. As a #6 seed, Battle didn’t like his chances in the tournament. “I thought I had a chance to win the first round and maybe the second, but no chance to get past the Sweet 16,” he says.
The competition got tougher once he got to the Sweet 16, where he had to face-off against Dakota Slaughter of Alabama (a #2 seed) for a likely match-up against Bak Bak of California (a #1 seed) to get to the Final Four. “I knew if I could just get past them, I had a chance,” Battle says.
Battle did what he could to help his cause, casting his own votes and making sure his teammates voted for him. He says he was ecstatic when he learned from ESPN that he had won, and that his teammates mobbed him when he told them about it in study hall. “They celebrated like we had won the Sweet 16,” he says.
Battle says there aren’t any perks for winning, other than a few additional greetings from students on campus. Battle wouldn’t mind if he gets his own cheering section at games next year.
How about getting athletics officials to change the front of the basketball jerseys, from STATE to STAATE? “That would be funny,” Battle says. “I might mention that to them.”
While the contest has been fun, Battle said it didn’t compare to the experience of State’s run in the actual tournament. “The Sweet 16 was definitely the highlight, to accomplish so much during the first year under Coach Gottfried,” he says.
And Battle is already looking forward to next year, hoping that ESPN will give him a chance to defend his title when NC State returns to the NCAA tournament.
“I hope I’m a number one seed next year,” he says, “instead of a number six seed.”