Could March Madness get Utah Valley coach Mark Madsen dancing again?
The former Los Angeles Laker and current coach of WAC-leading Utah Valley University, shares what it will take to get him back cutting a rug
Despite frequent attempts, no one can convince Mark Madsen, the Utah Valley University basketball coach via the Los Angeles Lakers, to reprise the “Dance.” You know, the (in)famous dance he performed when he and his Lakers teammates were celebrating their 2001 NBA championship. It was not a pretty sight. The Dance was not Elaine Benes-bad of “Seinfeld” fame (which George describes as looking like a “full body dry-heave”), but it did attract a lot of good-natured ribbing on the internet.
“Our goal is to make the Big Dance. If we make the Sweet 16, I’ll be dancing.” — UVU coach Mark Madsen when asked if he’ll ever break out the dance move he displayed after his Lakers team won an NBA title
More than two decades later, he still receives numerous requests for a repeat of the Dance, but he always declines. There’s only one thing that could bring it back, he says, but we’ll come to that.
“Over his four years (as UVU’s coach), I’ve seen numerous requests for him to do it,” says Jason Erickson, the school’s sports information director. “I actually tried to get him to do it on the set of (ESPN’s) “SportsCenter” when we were there his first season. … I knew it would go viral (if he had been willing, ESPN would have aired the clip on “SportsCenter” that night). … Over the past years I’ve seen players and staff ask him to do it, but he always gives the same response, politely.”
Recently a couple of officials from the Western Athletic Conference interviewed him and asked him to do the Dance for a TikTok video, but that went nowhere, as well.
Says Erickson, “He’s always polite about turning the request down and says he wants to do it when there is actually something to celebrate.”
And what would that be?
“Our goal is to make the Big Dance,” says Madsen, referring to the NCAA Tournament. “If we make the Sweet 16, I’ll be dancing.”
Considering UVU’s history, the odds of that are remote — the Wolverines have never been invited to the NCAA Tournament — which shows how badly he does not want to dance. On the other hand, the Wolverines are putting the finishing touches on one of their best seasons ever. With four regular-season games remaining, they sport a 21-6 overall record. Their 12-2 record in league play has given them a two-game lead over the rest of the WAC. The winner of the WAC postseason tournament is awarded an automatic berth in the NCAA Tournament.
“That is the goal and has been since I got here,” says Madsen.
After completing a nine-year NBA career, which included two championships with the Lakers, Madsen immediately turned to coaching. He coached in the D League and at his alma mater, Stanford, before landing an assistant’s gig with the Lakers, where he coached for six seasons. A few months after the end of the 2018-19 season, he was hired by UVU to replace Mark Pope, who had been hired away by BYU.
The first two seasons didn’t go well. There were injuries and the loss of several transfers; the Wolverines finished with an 11-19 record. The pandemic hit the following year and several of Madsen’s players caught COVID-19. They got healthy later in the season and came back to tie for the WAC title. They were 20-12 last season, but finished no better than seventh in the WAC.
In the offseason, Fardaws Aimaq — the nation’s leading rebounder and WAC Player of the Year — transferred to Texas Tech, which is probably why the Wolverines were picked to finish seventh in the WAC preseason poll.
Instead, the Wolverines, with a roster that is represented by 10 states and three foreign countries, have taken charge of the WAC. The obvious counterpoint is that it is a weak league, but the Wolverines proved their bona fides when they beat BYU by 15 points on the latter’s home court, and then again when they claimed a road win over Oregon. They also took Wake Forest to overtime on the road, but lost.
Even with the loss of Aimaq, the team improved with the return of guard Trey Woodbury, who sat out last season with a knee injury, and the emergence of newcomer Aziz Bandaogo, a 7-foot Senegalese transfer from Akron. The team, which averages 16 assists per game, shares the ball, with four players scoring in double figures.
“I’m proud of this year’s group,” says Madsen. “They put in so much work over the summer.”
After each home game, Madsen removes his tie and gives it to fans; maybe this is the season he will give them the Dance.