San Diego State guard Darrion Trammell after the Aztecs' Elite Eight win over Creighton to reach the NCAA Tournament's Final Four. Mar 26, 2023; Louisville, KY, USA; San Diego State Aztecs guard Darrion Trammell (12) celebrates the win over the Creighton Bluejays at the NCAA Tournament South Regional-Creighton vs San Diego State at KFC YUM! Center. Mandatory Credit: Jordan Prather-USA TODAY Sports

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Darrion Trammell wept tears of joy because not even in his wildest dreams could he have imagined this. A small guard who had no Division I offers out of high school made the game-winning free throw to send San Diego State to the Final Four for the first time.

In an epic slugfest decided by a controversial foul call with 1.2 seconds left, the No. 5-seeded Aztecs outlasted No. 6-seeded Creighton 57-56 at the KFC Yum! Center. It was an anti-climatic ending to a game that seemed destined for a fantastic finish. Replays showed that it was indeed a foul committed by Creighton’s Ryan Nembhard. Whether or not it should have been called, depends on your point of view.

Trammell still had to make at least one free throw. After missing the first, he sank the second to complete the most successful weekend in the program’s history: a titanic upset of No. 1 overall seed Alabama and a triumph over Creighton. Trammell, the heartbeat of the resilient Aztecs, was named the South Region Most Outstanding Player. He scored 21 points against Alabama and had 12 points versus Creighton. 

“I started crying,” the 5-foot-10 guard said. “It’s a blessing (with) my journey. It just came out. It was overflowing. All the emotions. It’s crazy. I wouldn’t have thought that I’d be here.”

Many athletes talk about being doubted. Sometimes it’s warranted, and that’s certainly the case with Trammell. After playing in high school in San Francisco, he was forced to go the junior college route (City College of San Francisco) because no Division I extended a scholarship offer. He then landed at Seattle University, where he spent two seasons before transferring to San Diego State.

The knock on Trammell has always been his height. He’s listed at 5-10 but is probably closer to 5-9. Focus on that if you want. Or you can focus on his talent. In the two biggest games of his life, he committed a total of two turnovers. 

“A lot of people haven’t gone through my journey to get here,” Trammell said. “It was up and down, up and down, constantly being doubted. People not believing in me. There has been constant doubt about my size and things like that. But my belief in myself never wavered. I had the support. My friend, my family back home in Marin City, no one ever stopped believing in me back there, where it matters. Now, I’m here.”

Trammell consistently bailed out a San Diego State team that often goes through scoring droughts. The Aztecs shot just 37.7 percent against Alabama and 37.9 percent against Creighton. They made just nine three-point baskets in Louisville. 

“To see him break out, it’s no surprise to us, but it does make us happier to see him scoring and really leading us because, man, this man puts in the work,” senior forward Aguek Arop said. “He came from Seattle, overlooked, and for him to step up and do what he did for us is special. We all love him for that.”

Added backcourt mate Lamont Butler: “Darrion is a big-time player for our team. You guys have seen the scoring outbreaks he had the last couple of games, but it’s really the defensive side, the pressure he puts on the point guards. And we love him. We need him, and we needed him tonight. We just are glad to have him on our team.”

San Diego State is a defense-first team. The Aztecs are ranked fourth in defensive efficiency by the Ken Pomeroy ratings. Their grit and resilience fueled by Trammell should give them a puncher’s chance at the Final Four in Houston.

The previous two winners of the South Regional in Louisville went on to win the national championship (Villanova in 2016 and Virginia in 2019). 

“Defense never wavers, Trammell said. “They say defense wins championships and that’s what we hang our hats on religiously. I think we’ll be fine.”

About Michael Grant

Born in Jamaica. Grew up in New York City. Lives in Louisville, Ky. Sports writer. Not related to Ulysses S. Grant.