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‘Crying Northwestern Kid’ who became a meme during March Madness now attends Harvard

John Phillips is a freshman at Harvard University.Handout

Six years ago, a video clip of a boy in a purple Northwestern jersey holding his hands above his head in anguish went viral.

It became one of the defining memes of the 2017 NCAA Tournament — and college basketball.

Now, as the 2023 NCAA Tournament gets underway, he’s back.

John Phillips, “the crying Northwestern kid,” is the son of ACC commissioner Jim Phillips. He was spotted at the NCAA Tournament this week.

Phillips is now a freshman at Harvard, The Sporting News reports. And he wrote about his experience going viral in his application essay to get into the Cambridge institution.


“It doesn’t get much more unique than that,” Phillips said.

Phillips described the 2017 Northwestern basketball season as “magical.” It was Northwestern’s first appearance in the NCAA Tournament. Phillips had a front-row seat to the action as his father was Northwestern’s athletic director at the time.

The eight-seeded Wildcats beat Vanderbilt in the first round before falling to eventual runner-up Gonzaga. Top-seeded Gonzaga led by 18 at the half and appeared to be well on its way to cruising to a victory.

Northwestern cut the lead down to five, and could have cut the lead to three if a goaltending call were made on a controversial blocked shot by Gonzaga’s Zach Collins.

Northwestern coach Chris Collins was called for a technical foul while pleading his case. Gonzaga sank the free-throws and eventually won 79-73.

“That four-point swing completely changed the trajectory of the game,” Phillips said. “I still hold the position that if that had gone differently, we would have found a way to win that game. It made me incredibly upset, especially since there was an actual injustice. I guess (CBS) knew I was going to react that way, because they were right on it. The rest is history.”


Phillips was in middle school at the time. He said support from his friends helped him deal with the attention.

Eventually, he used the embarrassing moment to help Harvard’s admissions team get to know him better. Phillips, who studies Government and Economics, is still into sports and said he wants to broadcast some Harvard games on the radio in the future.

“I am the passion, the dedication, and the emotion behind the meme,” Phillips wrote in his essay. “I am the person who faced his most embarrassing moment — and didn’t run away from it. I embraced it. I chose to be authentic, to show people that a life of purpose is more meaningful than a life of apathy.”

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