Big Red in the Big Dance

Three former Exeter champions will be on college basketball's biggest stage as the NCAA tourney tips off this weekend.

Brian Muldoon
March 17, 2021
Phillips Exeter Academy Basketball March Madness

Jacob Grandison '17, Pearson Parker '19 and Niko Rocak '20 are participating in the NCAA men's basketball tournament. 

March Madness is one of the most exciting events on the sporting calendar each year, and the Exeter community has a rooting interest  this season as three Big Red alums are competing in the 68-team tournament.

Jacob Grandison ’17 (University of Illinois), Pearson Parker ’19 (Colgate University) and Niko Rocak ’20 (University of California at Santa Barbara) each helped their team earn an automatic bid to the NCAA men's basketball tournament and will tip off this weekend.

“We are so excited for our three scholar-athletes competing in March Madness,” said Big Red boys basketball head coach, Jay Tilton. “The work ethic and passion that Jacob, Pearson and Niko shared in their time at Exeter has clearly contributed to the success of their respective teams. We wish them all the best of luck. The Big Red community is behind them.”

The trio is accustomed to success on the basketball court, as each was a member of a NEPSAC Class A championship season during their tenure in Exeter. Grandison was named tournament MVP as he helped lead Exeter to the title in 2017. Two years later, Rocak and Parker teamed up to bring Big Red their second championship in three seasons, with Parker also honored with the tournament MVP honor.

Winning ways have continued since their graduation from Exeter. Grandison, who was inserted into the Illinois starting lineup midway through the regular season, has helped raise the Fighting Illini to a No. 2 ranking in the country and a top seed in the Midwest portion of the bracket. Grandison is in rare air as the first player in Exeter history to represent a number-one seed in the tournament. Illinois, who has put together an impressive 23-6 overall record, won the Big Ten Tournament last Saturday over Ohio State and will play Drexel University in first-round action at 12:15 p.m. Friday. The Illini are among the favorites to win the national title.

Parker and the Colgate Raiders went 14-1 on the year, won the Patriot League and will open up March Madness play as a 14-seed at 12:45 p.m. Friday against Arkansas.

Rocak and the UCSB Gauchos finished 22-4 overall, were crowned Big West Champions, and will play as a 12-seed against fifth-seeded Creighton University at 12:30 p.m. on Saturday.