The Five-Minute Interview: ‘Cinderella’ Author Michael Litos Dissects Mid-Major Basketball

Posted: March 2, 2007 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Colleen Kearney Rich

Michael Litos spent the 2005-06 basketball season on the frontlines with the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA).

Cinderella Book cover
The “Cinderella” book jacket features Mason’s Folarin Campbell.

His goal was to write a book about “mid majors,” the term referring to athletic programs of colleges and universities not affiliated with a Bowl Championship Series conference. His timing couldn’t have been more perfect. He was there to capture Mason’s historic run to the Final Four.

His new book, “Cinderella: Inside the Rise of Mid-Major College Basketball,” takes an inside look at the NCAA’s mid-major basketball programs and chronicles the “fight for one shot to battle the association’s elite teams for the national championship.”

Litos spent the early part of his career as a writer and editor working for several sports and sports memorabilia magazines. He has interviewed a number of sports celebrities from Mickey Mantle to Brett Favre.

How long have you been covering sports and for what outlets?

I spent about eight years covering sports for magazines; I was an editor within the specialty publications group at Landmark Communications. My career drifted into a more corporate role, and I haven’t regularly covered sports for about 10 years. So when the opportunity presented itself to do this book project, I jumped.

At what point did you realize the CAA story was a book?

I always intended for this to be a book project. Although “mid majors” is widely discussed nationally, I had never seen a definitive work on the subject. I will say, though, that my initial idea was to follow the conference during its four-day postseason tournament. At some point, I realized this wasn’t going to be enough and chose to follow the conference for one entire season.

How long did it take you to write the book and how many people did you have to interview?

It depends on how you look at the writing process. I followed the conference for more than a year, so you could say it was a two-year process. However, the majority of the writing (and rewriting because of Mason’s incredible run) was completed in March and April of last year. There was definitely a swift pace last spring.

I couldn’t begin to guess how may people I interviewed. Perspective is important to me, so I tried to talk to as many people as I could along the way … maybe 100? Strictly a guess.

With March Madness approaching, who looks good to you this year?

The three things that are most important to look for when considering a mid-major team that can win multiple games in the NCAA tournament are senior guards, star players and the ability to defend. I like Southern Illinois from the MVC [Missouri Valley Conference]. Both Old Dominion and Drexel from the CAA have the capability to make noise as well, if they shoot well. Appalachian State is a team few people are talking about right now that I like.

But of course, for mid majors, the first step is getting there.

Who is the most famous person you have had the opportunity to interview?

Probably Dick Vitale. Let me tell you, he is one of the most generous, thoughtful and genuine people you could meet. His schtick is just that, schtick – but he truly cares about college basketball, and, more importantly, people. Once you get past the blather of the fun on-air persona, Vitale is a good person.

Of the sport superstars or legends you have had the opportunity to meet and write about, who was your favorite?

From this book project, it was easily Hofstra coach Tom Pecora. He is someone that has attained a status and position and is successful, but he doesn’t think he’s smarter than anyone else. He tells you what he thinks and makes no bones about it. The honesty and openness is very refreshing.

From all of my travels, former NFL quarterback Boomer Esiason stands out. He barely knew me but took every minute of time I asked, and spoke openly to me about his son’s health. He is one of those people you can just tell by the way he carries himself and the way he speaks that he is a quality human being.

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