Now this is an elite group

If you're old enough to remember the first Gulf War, you, too, might have been chafed by the national media's frothy desire to paint Saddam's Republican Guard as "elite."


Elite Republican Guard this. Elite Republican Guard that. Was it trademarked or something? Did Saddam's lawyers send out a strongly worded letter warning American journalists that they must use "elite" in front of every reference to "Republican Guard"?

We all know how that turned out. Elite our foot!

The lesson, here, is that one must use the word elite most sparingly; otherwise, people and things undeserving of the privilege will be elevated unjustly, and the word will lose its very meaning.

But when it comes to talk of college basketball's Division II's "Elite Eight," you can believe it.

We're talking elite.

Tested under fire and the stronger for it, these are the best eight teams out of hundreds of Division II schools around the country. They have survived a season of challenges, tough rivalries, bruising conference schedules, frantic conference tournaments and do-or-die NCAA regional tournaments.

They have earned the label "elite."

Maybe we're a bit partial, but we're not sure any of the teams has earned it like Augusta State University has.

The Jaguars, who won the South Atlantic Regional Tuesday night on their home floor, persevered through a brutal Peach Belt Conference regular season and tournament -- neither of which they won -- before topping the other seven teams left standing in the regional tourney.

And they did it after major surgery at the start of the season to star player Tyrekus "A.J." Bowman to repair holes in his heart.

This is a special group. This is an elite group.

In fact, this year's Elite Eight may be more elite than usual. Consider: There were eight regional Division II tournaments around the country this past week -- and five of the winners were No. 1 seeds.

In addition, the top four-ranked teams in the country won their regionals and will be among the eight teams at the championship round in Springfield, Mass., March 26-29. It's the first time that has happened since 1982.

And Augusta State belongs there every bit as anyone else.

What a special moment for Augusta State, and for Augusta, for this team to be able to cut down the nets on its home court en route to the national championship round in Springfield next week. And what a big and appreciative crowd to help them on their way in the regional championship Tuesday night.

These guys have already achieved something very special. The right to be called regional champs. The right to play another day, this time for the national championship.

But most of all, the right to be called "elite."