When junior guard Austin Freeman scored 28 points in the second half to lead the Hoyas to an amazing comeback victory over Connecticut, it was a performance for the ages, one that deserved to be immortalized in song.
Most would consider that slightly hyperbolic, but not Chris Tiongson (COL ’89).
Two weeks after Georgetown’s epic comeback, Tiongson went on a Georgetown basketball forum, HoyaTalk, where he posts under the handle nodak89, to announce his new song, “I Am Free.” The song recounts Freeman’s Saturday afternoon heroics in the style of Tom Petty’s “Free Fallin’.”
“I Am Free” is just the latest release from Tiongson, a pediatrician from Fargo, North Dakota who has become the unlikely troubadour for the John Thompson III-era Hoyas.
“It started, I think, Roy [Hibbert’s] freshman year,” Tiongson said. “There was a Starbucks commercial … the guy’s name was Roy, and they started chanting his name: Roy, Roy, Roy. I think it was at one of the McDonough home games the students started chanting this, doing the ‘Roy’ chant to ‘Eye of the Tiger.’ Then somebody on HoyaTalk said, ‘Well wouldn’t it be funny did a song to that.’ So then I did.”
That would be “Heart of a Hoya,” a simple acoustic guitar effort that began what is now a 26-song catalog. But his tribute to Roy was hardly the first time Tiongson expressed his fandom through music.
“I was a tuba player [in the pep band],” he said. “I went to all the home games and all the tournament games from my freshman year on. Two Elite Eights, but never quite the Final Four.”
As an undergraduate in the late ‘80s, Tiongson just missed out on the Patrick Ewing-led teams that took Georgetown to back-to-back national championship games. He developed his love for the Hoyas while watching players like Reggie Williams and Perry McDonald, two of his favorites to this day.
Still, for as diehard as he had been, Tiongson saw his enthusiasm wane over the years, as the Hoyas foundered under head coach Craig Esherick, and he tried to observe from halfway across the country.
“The whole Esherick, white jersey era, it was hard to keep following the team,” Tiongson said. “It wasn’t as much fun. And being almost a couple thousand miles away, it wasn’t easy to follow the Hoyas as well. But then when JTIII was hired, that kind of re-inspired me to connect back with the team.”
Thompson and his first group of players brought an excitement about Hoya basketball back to the Hilltop, and that enthusiasm was felt all the way in Fargo. Thompson’s first two seasons marked Tiongson’s most prolific songwriting period, in which he released two eight-song albums chronicling Georgetown’s rise. Those years produced such notable tracks as “1984” (an adaptation of Bowling for Soup’s “1985”), commemorating Georgetown’s sole national championship, and “Jeff Green’s Mom” (based on Fountains of Wayne’s “Stacy’s Mom”), in honor of one of the Hoyas’ more visible supporters.
Of course, Thompson’s third season brought Georgetown back to the Final Four, a trip Tiongson called so “spectacular” that it didn’t require a song. Since then he has gone into semi-retirement. “I Am Free” was his first song in almost a year.
Tiongson’s decreased output is due in no small part to the amount of work each song requires. While many of his earlier tracks were simply recorded as he played his acoustic guitar into a cheap microphone, the production of his work has become much more sophisticated over the years. Now, producing a track easily takes him upwards of 15 hours.
But after witnessing Freeman’s game-saving performance against UConn, Tiongson knew he needed to put the time in.
“I’d been thinking about it for awhile,” he said. “Austin definitely deserved his own song … So it had been kind of percolating, but then it took that legendary Connecticut game to really push him over the edge to like, ‘Ok, I really need to do this.’”
Once it was released, it didn’t take long for “I Am Free” to attract the attention of its subject.
“I heard it,” Freeman said. “It was pretty funny. I showed it to my teammates too and they started laughing … I appreciate it. I always like the support by the fans.”
There’s a certain irony to a 20-year-old basketball star in Washington, D.C. knowing Tiongson’s music, when most people back in North Dakota know him as a mild-mannered doctor whose musical claim to fame is playing guitar for his church.
“Only a few people know that I do songs,” Tiongson said. “Almost everyone knows I’m a crazed Georgetown basketball fan. But not everybody knows about that. It’s kind of surprising and shocking when they find out some times.”
Those who do know Tiongson as nodak89 can expect more Georgetown-centric songs in the future. While he has no timetable set, Tiongson has potential song ideas running through his mind all the time. One he’s thinking about now is “Saxa Dance,” a variation on Men Without Hats’ “Safety Dance.”
Of course, Freeman’s teammates have their own suggestions for Tiongson’s next creation. Shortly after discovering “I Am Free,” star sophomore Greg Monroe took to Twitter:
“How am I the man without my own song????”