Paul Pierce, Matt Barnes, And Stephen Jackson Tell Us Who To Keep An Eye On During March Madness

March Madness logo on basketball

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College basketball has officially kicked into high gear now that March has rolled around, and teams across the country are making a last-ditch effort to firm up their résumé (and, in more than a few cases, trying to pull off a miracle) in the hopes of hearing their name announced on Selection Sunday.

As things currently stand, we have a pretty good idea of which programs will be punching their ticket to The Big Dance before the invites are officially extended this weekend.

A few frontrunners have also emerged ahead of the NCAA Tournament, but as fans know all too well by now, there’s only so much you can do to predict how everything is going to play out once March Madness officially commences.

You’ll have an overwhelming amount of data and analysis to pore over as you attempt to convince yourself this will totally, definitely be the year your bracket isn’t busted by the time the first round wraps up on St. Patrick’s Day.

With that said, it probably won’t hurt to take the opinion of three former NBA players (including two guys who got to experience March Madness firsthand) into consideration.

I recently got the chance to chat with Paul Pierce, Matt Barnes, and Stephen Jackson, who will be traveling down to Texas for the first round of the tournament to hang with one lucky fan who will earn the right to stay at the “Bnb-Dubs” Buffalo Wild Wings has constructed in one of its restaurants in Houston.

Buffalo Wild Wings Bnb Dubs March Madness

Arturo Olmos/Buffalo Wild Wings

During the conversation, the members of that trio were kind enough to break down the teams and players they’ll be keeping an eye on when the tournament rolls around, discuss their “Welcome To The NBA” Moment, and (in the case of Pierce and Barnes) share what it was like to participate in one of the coolest experiences in college sports.

Without further ado…

Paul Pierce, Matt Barnes, and Stephen Jackson on March Madness and much more

BroBible: Hey guys, thanks for taking the time to chat with me today. To kick things off,  can I have one of you give me the lowdown on what you’re doing with Buffalo Wild Wings? 

Matt Barnes: We started our partnership with Buffalo Wild Wings in the Summer League last year.

It was a great experience. Myself, Stack, and J.R. Smith chopped it up and got to eat a bunch of different wings and it went well. We’ve reconnected for March Madness this year and added Paul and A’ja Wilson to the team,

Buffalo Wild Wings has set up a great fan experience at a location in Houston where we can eat, watch the games, do interviews, and hang out. I know we’re all excited about that.

Stephen Jackson: It’s gonna be fun, man. Both of these guys got to experience March Madness and Houston is my home area, so it is gonna be exciting to be there and do a live taping of All The Smoke with A’ja and Paul in the building. It’s gonna be a great experience.

Paul Pierce: Yea, this is gonna be my first event with Matt and Stack. I’m a fan of the wings and so I’m happy to be part of the team.

I apologize if I’m putting you on the spot, but what’s your go-to wing flavor?

Stephen: I like mine sweet and hot.

Paul: Ooh, I’m between lemon pepper and buffalo.

Matt: Yeah, I’m lemon pepper. I don’t know if they have a lemon pepper-BBQ mix, but if they don’t, we might need to make that an All The Smoke special.

So I know it’s a little early to really get too into March Madness, but based on what you’ve seen so far, are there any schools you think might have an edge as we get closer to the tourney? 

Matt: I mean, my school [UCLA] is not doing too bad. I think we’re like three or four in the country right now. So I’m excited to see them.

Paul: UCLA is good.

Matt: Yeah, I’m excited to see what UCLA could do this year; if they can finally crack that code.

Paul: For me, it’s always gonna be Kansas. I’m an alum, but they’re also in the top five and they’ve been playing well.

I’ve been enjoying watching the kid Jalen [Wilson], but they got a lot of young studs out there in the college game that I like checking out. Also, Jaime Jaquez played for my AAU team so I always keep up with him at UCLA.

Stephen: I’ve coached at the Roundball Classic, so there’s a whole bunch of kids that’s in this tournament that I’m fans of, but right now, I’m pulling for Alabama.

I know about four or five kids from Alabama, and they’re looking real good right now.

Stephen, I apologize in advance for excluding you from this question, but since we’re talking March Madness, I’d love to get some insight from Paul and Matt about what it’s like to play in the tourney.

What’s the environment like compared to a typical regular season game? Was there anything that you weren’t prepared for when you arrived? 

Paul: For me, the biggest thing about playing in the tournament is just the number of cameras. I had some media that followed me at Kansas—we were always a top team—but then when you got to the tournament, it’s just the media everywhere.

That was my first time really experiencing so many different media outlets. You’ve got like 50 to 100 different cameras on you and so many different interviews. It was an eye-opening experience when you haven’t dealt with being in front of those types of lights.

If you don’t have a thick skin or you’re not a tough player, it could really make you nervous—but it’s a good nervousness and I always enjoyed playing in the tournament.

The excitement surrounding it and just having the opportunity to win a national championship. Unfortunately, I never got to experience that, but the tournament itself, I want to say it’s the best thing in sports.

It’s up there with like Super Bowl.

Matt: I agree with Paul. I think it’s the number of cameras and the amount of people.

Sometimes when you go out east, you’re playing basketball in big old football domes; the size, the crowd, and the cameras are really something.

All of us got a chance to play in the NBA Finals and that was amazing. But to me, this is the closest thing. You know the whole world is gonna be watching, the energy’s gonna be crazy, and you wanna go out there and prove yourself.

Stack gets to answer this one first. A lot of the guys who are playing in the tournament will be making the leap to the NBA next year.

What were the biggest adjustments you faced making the transition to the professional level? Do you have a specific “Welcome to the NBA” moment that springs to mind?

Stephen: I took the long road to get there by going overseas. playing in small cities, and breaking both of my feet.

My Welcome To The NBA Movement was being able to start—running through that tunnel in New Jersey with Stephon Marbury and Kenyon Martin.

Matt: I had a similar journey. I got drafted, got cut, and hit the minor leagues for about six months. Then I got called up by the Los Angeles Clippers.

They were playing the Sacramento Kings—my hometown team—back when the Kings were one of the best teams out west. So I was back in the city where I played in college, playing against my hometown team for my first NBA game, and nearly had a double-double.

That was probably the most exciting way to start my career.

Paul: My biggest adjustment was adjusting to the speed of the game. The players are just so strong and athletic,

My Welcome To The League Moment isn’t one game but when I started matching up against guys who I kind of idolized. I had posters of Penny Hardaway and Grant Hill on my wall, and the next thing I know, I’m matching up with them. You go from becoming a fan to a competitor.

I remember Grant Hill ate me up during my rookie year. I was just like, “Damn.” I wanted to be like him and play like him—I wanted to guard him too—but he just ate me up. I think he had like 34-10-10 or something. I could not stop him for some reason.

He was giving me that frost. He was getting to the rack on me. I was just like, “Damn. I gotta get my s*** together.” From that point on I was like, “This ain’t never happening again.” I’ll never forget that.

Victor Wembanyama is obviously the headliner heading into the NBA Draft this year, but are there any college players you think have the potential to make an immediate impact?

Matt: I like that point guard. Scoot Henderson. He’s in the G League, but that’s just the way the game is now.

Obviously, everyone needs to draft from college, but now the top picks don’t necessarily come from college. They’re coming from around the world and a bunch of different leagues.

I’m excited to see all these guys, but especially Victor. We haven’t seen a guy with his ability and his size. I mean, there are some bold ballers out there, but Victor has all the makings to be a special player. I think we’re all excited to see what he can come into the league and do.

Paul: I like that kid from Alabama. Brandon Miller. After he put up that 41 points in overtime I was like, “Oh yeah. He’s one of them ones.” I’m expecting big things out of him.

Stephen: I like Scoot too, man. I like his passion for the game and how hard he plays. He plays with the attitude that all three of us had. We played like we had something to prove. I think Scoot is gonna make a lot of noise.

Portions of this interview were edited for clarity.