ChristianHeadlines Is Moving to CrosswalkHeadlines! Visit Us Here

5 Christians to Watch in the Men's & Women's NCAA Final Fours

Michael Foust | Crosswalk Headlines Contributor | Updated: Apr 05, 2024
5 Christians to Watch in the Men's & Women's NCAA Final Fours

5 Christians to Watch in the Men's & Women's NCAA Final Fours

This year’s rendition of March Madness has been filled with buzzer-beaters, Cinderella stories and thrilling upsets.

It’s also been filled with inspirational stories of faith, as superstars, role players and head coaches alike proclaim the name of Christ. We are highlighting five such individuals, but -- no doubt -- there are many more (perhaps we’ll discover a few more this weekend).

The women’s Final Four features a Friday night matchup between South Carolina and North Carolina State, followed by a showdown between Iowa and Connecticut. (Games are on ESPN).

It’s the men’s turn on Saturday, with Final Four games between Purdue and North Carolina State and then Alabama-Connecticut. (The men’s semifinals are on TBS).

The women’s championship will be held Sunday afternoon on ABC, with the men’s championship following on Monday night on TBS.

Here are five Christians who are in the spotlight:

Connecticut's Paige Bueckers

The All-American guard has the Connecticut women back in the Final Four for the first time since 2022 after averaging a team-leading 22 points and four assists per game. Connecticut, a powerhouse, is seeking its first national title since 2016. 

Bueckers has been vocal about her faith.

“Just so much gratitude. I’m a living testimony,” Bueckers told ESPN after her team won its regional. “I give all glory to God. He works in mysterious ways.”

She missed all of last season with a knee injury.

“Last year, I was praying to be back at this stage, and he sent me trials and tribulations, but it was to build my character. It was to test my faith to see if I was only a Believer in the good times. But I just kept on believing. I did all I could so God could do all I can’t.”

RELATED: UConn Star Paige Bueckers Praises God amid Return from Injury

Alabama's Mark Sears

The All-SEC guard led Alabama to its first-ever Final Four after averaging a team-high 21.5 points per game and ranking ninth in the NCAA in 3-point percentage (43.4 percent).

“Hard work is always undefeated. I wouldn’t be here without the hard work,” Sears told CBS after his team beat Clemson in the regional final. “...[I] give all honor and glory to God.”

Sears transferred to Alabama from Ohio, where he led that team to the NCAA Tournament in 2022. He said his parents’ faith impacted him as a child.

“My mom and dad, they were really on me with that at an early age. I feel like that was one of the best things that could’ve ever happened in my life, just to know that I’m not alone and I can always talk to God whenever I want to,” he said in 2022. “…I just feel like being able to talk to Him, just tell Him how I was feeling, just read the Word, that really helped my faith.”

Purdue's Mason Gillis

The forward earned Big 10 Sixth Man of the Year honors after averaging 7 points and 3.8 rebounds, helping take the pressure off All-American center Zach Edey. It is Purdue’s first trip to the Final Four since 1980. 

Gillis’ favorite Bible verse -- Isaiah 40:31 -- is tattooed on his left forearm. He told the Purdue Exponent the verse helped him persevere during the valleys of life. (The verse reads: “Those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”)

“This tattoo was my first one I’ve ever gotten, and it means a lot to me,” Gillis said.

As a child, he went to church with his mom, sister, grandma and aunt. He also has a rosary tattoo, even though he’s not Catholic. The news site described him as a devout Christian.

“I just thought the rosary was cool,” he said. “I didn’t know it was a Catholic thing.”

Connecticut coach Dan Hurley

The sixth-year head coach has returned the men’s team to national prominence with four straight appearances in the NCAA Tournament and a national title in 2023. UConn is seeking to become the first back-to-back title winners since Florida in 2006-2007.

His faith, he said last year, has guided his life and career.

“My foundation is super strong,” Hurley told The Ed Mylett Show. “My foundation starts with my faith -- my faith in Jesus Christ. …That foundation that I have at home and my faith, like I can handle anything that comes with this job -- the criticism, the losing, the going through tough stretches. I am built to handle everything that comes with this job because of my background, my foundation.”

He goes to bed early each night so that he can wake up and spend time with God, he added.

“Your spiritual readings and your prayer, your meditation practice,” Hurley said. “For me, my journaling, whether it’s free writing or gratitude journaling.”

South Carolina coach Dawn Staley

The Gamecocks coach has her women’s team in its fourth straight Final Four and its sixth in the last nine tournaments. South Carolina won national titles in 2022 and 2017, both under Staley.

She has been vocal about her faith.

“If you don’t believe in God, something’s wrong with you,” she told a national TV audience after her team won its regional final. “Seriously. I’m a Believer, because He makes things come true. When you’re at your worst, He’s at His best.”

Staley continued her faith-filled testimony during a media Q&A.

“I think God has a funny way of dealing with people. I'm one of His,” she said. “And for us to lose the way we lost last year [to Iowa] -- and for Him to bring us to this point today makes me believe a little bit deeper. ...I don't want to ever not give God the glory for giving us uncommon favor.”

Her team won its regional final on Easter Sunday.

“He is risen,” she said.

RELATED: Coach Dawn Staley of No. 1 South Carolina Testifies: "If You Don't Believe in God, Something's Wrong with You"

Image credit: ©Getty Images / Brandon SumrallStringer

Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.

5 Christians to Watch in the Men's & Women's NCAA Final Fours