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Broncos have history in NCAA Tournament

Owen Daniels' Wisconsin Badgers are a top seed in the NCAA Tournament. See how far they go in his bracket, and who he has in his Final Four.

As anyone who has watched any sports via any venue is aware, the NCAA basketball tournament is underway.

March Madness.

All basketball, all the time on every TV set (OK, maybe not every one). Every year, it's a great tournament.

But did you know that the Denver Broncos have had two players, and one current personnel man, who actually played in the NCAA college basketball tournament?

The three greatest college basketball players in Denver Broncos history have been the late Lonnie Wright, former Broncos tight end Julius Thomas and current superscout Cornell Green.

Thomas was an exemplary football player for Portland State in his lone 2010 season on their team, but he was a much bigger sports star for the Vikings as a basketball player. A four-year standout on their basketball team, Thomas was named to the Big Sky's All-Tournament team twice, and helped Portland State reach the NCAA Tournament in 2008 and 2009, their school's only March Madness appearances.

Thomas' NFL accomplishments are well-known, and his basketball skills are common knowledge these days, but the other two Broncos to play in the NCAA Tournament might not be so widely recognized.

Lonnie Wright was on the Colorado State University basketball team that lost to Elvin Hayes and the University of Houston Cougars in 1966.

Wright was All-City, All-County, All-State and All-American at Newark South Side High School, then went on to play basketball—no football—at CSU for four years where he scored 1,246 points in his Rams career.

How deep could Chris Harris Jr,'s Jayhawks go in the NCAA Tournament? Pretty far, based on his bracket

A magnificent athlete, he signed with the Denver Broncos as a free agent and played two years at safety, with one interception in 1966 and four in 1967. He also caught one pass in 1967, making him the only player in Broncos history to have a reception, interception, and have played in the basketball NCAA tournament!

He also played for the Denver Rockets (that was the Nuggets name before they joined the NBA) for four years and for the Floridians (another ABA team) for one more, averaging 10.7 points per game in his five-year pro career.

Lonnie Wright was easily one of the greatest athletes ever to play for the Denver Broncos, but not better than Cornell Green, one of my favorite all-time guys in our scouting department.

Like Wright, Green did not play football but was a magnificent basketball player at Utah State, where he was a two-time All-American for the Aggies. He was the Skyline Conference Most Valuable Player as a sophomore, the made All-American twice.

Green led the Aggies to the NIT in 1960, back in the day when the National Invitational Tournament was actually about as big a deal as the NCAAs. He followed that up by leading Utah State into the NCAA tournament in 1962, again earning All-American honors. Green's Aggies lost to UCLA in the regional semifinals in 1962.

Undrafted in football, Green signed with the Dallas Cowboys as a free agent and went on to become truly, honestly, genuinely, one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL, a multiple times Pro Bowler.

Cornell made the Pro Bowl in 1967, 1968, 1969, 1971 and 1972, also making the NFL All-Rookie team in his first year.

He was a starter on the Dallas Cowboys world championship team for Super Bowl VI and is a member of the Cowboys' 25th Anniversary Team.

Like many other great players, Cornell Green has not made the Hall of Fame but remains a candidate via the veterans committee.

He began scouting right after his playing career ended, first with Dallas and since for the Broncos, for whom he still scouts today.

But back in the day, before the March Madness of our era, both Lonnie Wright and Cornell Green played in the NCAA tournament as basketball players, a fact of which most Broncos fans filling out their bracket forms were very likely not aware.

By the way, Cornell Green is the brother of Pumpsie Green (yes, I realize most readers have not heard of him, either), the player who literally was the first African-American to play for the Boston Red Sox.

So Cornell was a mega-star in two sports, and his brother integrated the Boston Red Sox — pretty nice accomplishments for the Green family.

Anyway, as you watch the NCAA tourney continue, my guess is that you can win a few friendly bets with your friends by asking them to name the three Broncos who played in the tournament, back in the day.

Thanks for reading, and enjoy March Madness!

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