GREENSBORO, N.C. — He has waited so long for this. Perhaps that is why Brad Greenberg was walking so quickly.
Greenberg moved down a corridor at the Greensboro Coliseum on Wednesday afternoon, smiling and chattering, clapping his hands as if to sound cadence for his Radford basketball team as it followed behind him.
After all the years, after all the miles, these were the sweetest steps of his much-traveled career. It showed in Greenberg's pace, and it showed in his face.
Finally, he has a team of his own.
Finally, he is where he should have been all along.
Such is the allure of the opening round of the NCAA Tournament. It is a weekend for underdogs and overachievers, for the unappreciated and for the dreamers. In the case of Greenberg, it is a time for a 55-year-old man who has rediscovered his first love, college basketball.
"This means a lot," Greenberg said. "I've had some ups and some downs. I've had some moments in the sun. I appreciate every day I get to do this, that I get to walk into the gym and coach some guys. This is as good as it gets for me."
Even the odds against Greenberg's Radford team, which plays mighty North Carolina today, cannot change that. Yes, he is the improbable coach who will lead his improbable team as it tries to pull off an improbable task. For some coaches, that might sound daunting. For Greenberg, it sounds, well, overdue.
"It's a great story," said Virginia Tech coach Seth Greenberg, Brad's younger brother. "It's the best story in the tournament."
For Brad, the story began a quarter of a century ago, back when he was on the verge of being an overnight success. At the time, he was sharp and hungry and he had Art Garfunkel's hair, and he looked very much like all of those young assistants who in turn look like rising lawyers. All he needed was the right school to offer him the right job.
Instead, it was the NBA that called, and everything changed. Suddenly, Greenberg's career was bounding across the country like a basketball headed out of bounds. He spent some time as an assistant coach with the Clippers and the Knicks. He went into scouting and then personnel with the Trail Blazers. He was hired as the 76ers' general manager, where he drafted Allen Iverson, but he was fired after a year.
"You know why he was fired?" Seth says, the acid still dripping in his voice. "Because Pat Croce (the former president of the 76ers) is an idiot. I'm the bad Greenberg. Brad wouldn't say it, but I will. Pat Croce is an egomaniac. He wouldn't stick to the plan."
In 2001, Brad joined his brother at USF. He became the director of basketball operations — a job some school officials didn't want to give him because of nepotism concerns even though, frankly, there were not a lot of former NBA general managers applying for the job. He went to Virginia Tech with Seth as an assistant coach in 2003.
Meanwhile, college basketball administrators kept hiring coaches, and they seemed to get younger all the time.
Perhaps that is why Greenberg's story seems so appealing. After a while, it began to look as if it would never happen. Three years ago, for instance, Greenberg considered taking a high school coaching job in Boca Raton.
"I told him he was nuts," Seth said. "Between his daughter Ali, (former coach and mentor) Jimmy Lynam and myself, we were able to convince him not to take to it. We told him to pursue his dream. We told him he was not going to do this."
Brad stayed at Virginia Tech, and in 2007, he found his college in nearby Radford, a school of 9,100. Two years later, he's in the NCAAs.
"It is pretty improbable to be sitting here at 55 looking out at you guys," Brad said. "But college basketball was my first passion. I always thought at some point, I'd get back in it, maybe as a Division III coach after I had made a lot of money as a GM."
Does Radford have a shot? Probably not. A No. 16 team has never beaten a No. 1 in the NCAAs. But with Art Parakhouski — the Beast from Belarus — inside to bang bodies with UNC's Tyler Hansbrough, it could be interesting.
"Art has played basketball for five years," Brad said. "Hansbrough, it seems like he's been first-team All-American for five years."
Still, a long shot is better than none. Remember the last time a No. 1 seed was beaten in its first tournament game? It was back in 1981, when Saint Joseph's upset a 27-1 DePaul team that had Mark Aguirre and Terry Cummings on it. Yeah, it was a different tournament back then, with only 48 teams and no shot clock and no 3-point line. Still, the big guys tumbled.
The assistant coach on that Saint Joseph's team? A guy named Brad Greenberg.
Wednesday, as Radford's bus rolled toward the stadium, that game was on the video.
"At least I watched it," Greenberg said. "Most of the guys were asleep, but I liked watching it."