CHARLESTON – He never was invited to the Big Dance, but Charleston attorney Gay Elmore once was right there looking in at the party.
Elmore played college basketball at Virginia Military Institute in Lexington, Va., in the mid-1980s. In his sophomore season, the Keydets advanced to the Southern Conference Tournament finals against Marshall University. The winner earned an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
The Thundering Herd defeated VMI 70-65 in the 1985 tournament at Asheville, N.C. Elmore scored 17 points in the championship game and was named the tournament MVP.
"We were up by one at the half," Elmore said of that title game. "It's funny. I was only a sophomore at that time, and I didn't take it that hard. I figured we'd be back there the next two seasons. Well, we weren't. But when you're young, you don't think that way."
In his college playing career, Elmore was the two-time Southern Conference Player of the Year. He also is the league's fourth all-time career scoring leader -- ahead of people such as Jerry West -- with 2,423 points in 113 games. He was drafted in the sixth round of the 1987 NBA Draft by the Milwaukee Bucks, but he didn't make the squad. So he went to law school at Washington and Lee.
Today, Elmore and his wife Elizabeth operate Elmore & Elmore, which primarily handles real estate and business law.
But basketball still holds a special place in his heart. And he loves seeing the underdogs – such as George Mason and Bradley -- advance in the tournament.
"Playing at VMI, I get a big kick out of all of the upsets in the tournament," Elmore said. "I've always said that if you get those bigger schools off their home courts, there's not that much difference in teams."
When Elmore was playing for VMI, the Southern Conference Tournament was being held in Asheville, and the atmosphere was electric. The conference also had perennial mid-major powerhouses Marshall, Tennessee-Chattanooga and East Tennessee State.
"It always was packed," Elmore said of the conference tournament. "It was great. That's one thing that I've held on to. I kind of root for the mid-majors. Those big conference tournaments are like scrimmages.
"In the mid-major conferences, you lose and you're done. There's lots more pressure at that level than in the bigger conferences where a loss in the conference tournament doesn't mean you're done. In the mid-majors, you start your NCAA Tournamen before the big boys."
Elmore also follows the West Virginia University program.
"I root for WVU because my dad (also named Gay Elmore) played there, and my sons love them," he said. "I won't be surprised if they do make it to the Final Four. I love how they play."
Elmore said he uses lessons he learned playing basketball to this day.
"It's a great experience to be a part of, regardless of where you go in life," Elmore said. "Running a business, for example. Everybody try to do it like a team. Everybody's got a job to do."