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March Madness continues for Mercer's Jakob Gollon after Duke upset

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Three days ago, the madness returned to Jakob Gollon.

The sixth-year senior at Mercer slipped in a DVD and, for the first time, watched his team stun third-seeded Duke last month to open the NCAA tournament.

Gollon saw himself on the television screen leading the Macon, Ga., school’s first NCAA appearance since 1985. Finally, those 40 bracket-busting minutes of basketball seemed real.

“I don’t want to watch it too much and take away the awesomeness of it,” Gollon said in a telephone interview.

As the NCAA tournament ends Monday, he’s moving ahead with life after grabbing the country’s attention for one day in March.

The deluge of emails, text messages, social media mentions and phone calls that followed the Duke win have eased. No longer does applause greet his entrance into his modern poetry class.

Instead, Gollon embarked on the low-key path familiar to March heroes. The tournament’s bright lights are gone, replaced by lifting weights and shooting to stay sharp. Sorting through potential agents to help pursue a professional basketball career abroad. Polishing his resume to chase a coaching job in case continuing to play isn’t an option. Wrapping up his final semester at Mercer, having already earned a bachelor’s degree in communications and master’s in educational leadership. Enjoying a couple of weeks as a normal college student, albeit one who played in 154 men’s basketball games, the second most in NCAA Division I-A history.

Foot and knee injuries plagued Gollon’s first two seasons at Mercer. They drove him to consider quitting basketball. He didn’t and, finally, found himself scoring 20 points to propel 14th-seeded Mercer to taking out one of college basketball’s name-brand programs.

That 78-71 win, followed by a 20-point loss to Tennessee to end the season, already feels as if it’s receding into history.

“It’s kind of scary, but it’s kind of fascinating, too, just to think that our careers are finally over and we’ll be moving on into the real world,” Gollon said.

He waited to calm down -- being recognized in restaurants and strangers offering congratulations and the big welcome back to Macon -- before watching the Duke game. He watched much of the video alone and, somehow, the images on television didn’t seem as crazy as they did in person. Truth be told, Gollon didn’t believe Mercer played one of its better games.

“If we played [Duke] 10 more times, we’d have a good chance at winning seven or eight times,” Gollon said.

The video, though, held an experience Gollon calls special and magical and like nothing else he’s experienced. The words are earnest. The madness is still sinking in.

nathan.fenno@latimes.com

Twitter: @nathanfenno

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