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The Year of the Ram: Nearly, in Toronto

Here I continue in my micro-odyssey: to see all 11 games at the CIS Final 8 men’s basketball championships, to understand anything and everything about them, and to write it all up without losing subscribers or being fined by the Interwebs. (I’ve gotta be getting close to being long overdue. As opposed to just, um, sorta like, ya know, betterlatethanneverrightamIrightImsureImright. You can find Take One and Take Two with the easiest of clicks.

Listen, you may not know yet what happened in the Northern Territories of Hoopdom yesterday. The grand old W.P. McGee Trophy, first awarded in 1963 for the championship of Canadian university men’s basketball, was cradled and pumped toward the grey ceiling of the old Maple Leaf Gardens yesterday at about 5:30 pm. It was an amazing title game, and not incidentally the seasonal rubber match between a pair of Canadian hoops juggernauts and crosstown rivals: the Carleton Ravens and the Ottawa Gee-Gees.

Home of the Rams (and the ghost of Tim Horton).

Home of the Rams (and the ghost of Tim Horton).

However, I know you don’t want to read about that. Not yet, because you haven’t yet read JH.com’s take on Saturday night’s semifinals at the Mattamy Centre. (Am I right? I’m sure I’m right.) So I’ll get to that right quick, but yesterday’s heavyweight hoops slugfest? Sheesh, it was unbelievable, I mean, nobody saw it coming, not really, not like that, but I won’t spoil it for you. (Good thing that there isn’t some mechanism for quickly finding out facts on any given event or idea! Gosh, then you’d have your CIS Final 8 information out of sequence, the context and appreciation of the tournament’s Large Vista would be lost, and so would you be. Dear reader, I won’t stand or sit for it!) Oh, don’t worry, I WILL get to that stunning game – still reeling, I am, to think that they could have won over a team that many considered the favourite for a big chunk of the 2014-15 season, and holy cow! With such a devastating, heart-wrenching conclusion! But first I want to think and write about Saturday night, since: a) I wrote lots of semi-comprehensible notes, and b) the semifinals featured some of the maddest college hoop March-ing you’d ever want to see, and c) because Sir Henk of the Southlands has asked that it be so. (So has King Karl. There may be others. You may be among them. So here!)

The Raptor was in the House That Conn Smythe Built

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If It’s Any Consolation – And It Likely Wasn’t

I’m at the CIS Final 8, the men’s basketball championships. My opening round account, in living black and white, is here, if you want to catch up. (I want to catch up.) The semifinals last night were great, but I’ve stubbornly insisted on writing up the consolation round first. And the title match is coming in 42 minutes and 47 seconds, so let’s get this reading party started!

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Was Anybody Consoled?

As an obsessive consumer of all things Final 8 this weekend in Toronto, I wonder: if they held “consolation” games for first-round tournament losers, and no one was consoled by the experience, did anybody come? The simple answer is ‘no’, since the Mattamy Centre at Ryerson was an echoing bowl containing mostly lacklustre games, a small group of steadfastly cheerful parents, smiled-out volunteers, pouting coaches and whoever the rest of us, maybe 100 not-so-strong, were. As always, the longer answer is more interesting. Why does this tournament have a consolation round?

We usually console after death, or at least some notable loss, and I suppose young athletes with a dream of trophy-hoisting qualify for the latter. The word comes from the Latin consolari, “to offer solace, encourage, comfort, cheer”. If there was comfort, it was chilly; if there was cheer, it was certainly muted, especially for Dalhousie and Bishop’s universities, who got to add a second insulting ‘L’ to their injuries in losing close games to Victoria and Ottawa, respectively. I’m sure, too, that it felt better than a kick in the head for the universities of Saskatchewan and Windsor to win (the Big W) that second day, but Windsor’s coach, Chris Oliver in particular seemed especially uninterested. Of course, the competitive juices kick in for the players, and the second halves of these games are routinely more energetic than the first. That was a slight consolation to my weary eyes.

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A Canuck Man’s March Madness

WARNING: Contains basketball. And other things.

But lots of basketball.

The man would be me, and the madness — well, it may be terminal. As an international man of leisure, housework aside, I took in the all-Ontario AA (OFSAA) boys basketball championships Wednesday evening. (Lots to say about that, but not today.) An overnight bus trip and a Holiday Inn morning nap later, I was ragged but ready for Day 1 of the Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) men’s basketball Final 8. Play started at 11 a.m. in the reconfigured shell of dear old Maple Leaf Gardens, now called the Mattamy Centre and enclosing the Ryerson University athletic centre (and a Loblaws grocery store).I look up at the inner

I look up at the inner dome during games and remember the Leafs -- and the NBA Buffalo Braves! Bob McAdoo, Randy Smith, Ernie DiGregorio...

I look up at the inner dome during games and remember the Leafs — and the NBA Buffalo Braves! Bob McAdoo, Randy Smith, Ernie DiGregorio…

I am here because hoops has a hold on me, and especially because of my fascination with the (again!) top-seeded Carleton Ravens. They’re pursuing their fifth straight title (for the second time), and looking for their 11th win in 13 seasons. (This has been astounding for years, and too few notice. I notice. Yes, I do feel lonely at times. What makes you ask?)

I took notes. I noted things like this:

Game 1: Carleton Ravens vs. Saskatchewan Huskies

The Mattamy Centre is a great place to watch ball.  It’s tiny by NCAA standards, seating about 5000, and it’s not close to full. There may be 2000 to 2500 here now, and at least a third, maybe half, are school children — judging by the waving “thunderstix” (who is the genius that we thank for this invention?) all around the bowl bopping along to “Clap along if you feel like happiness is the truth…”. (I wasn’t among them, but they made me smile.) The floor is laid over a hockey rink, though it’s three storeys above the old MLG’s sacred surface. There are four rows of courtside seats opposite the scoring table and team benches.

And Philip Scrubb, the only man ever to be named national Player of the Year three times — and many Ravens faithful are furious he didn’t get it this year (what, did he get worse?) — is OFF and running and dealing. It’s already 28-10 over the Huskies by quarter time, with Phil driving and firing four three-pointers, including a 4-pt play at the buzzer. Sheesh. Normally impassive on the floor, he’s showing emotion early. Nice to see, actually; it’s genuine exuberance that he’s releasing in his last hurrah, and not Made4TV Emotion. (Heck, this game’s on local cable.)

Big brother Thomas hasn’t scored much yet as of 31-13, but he’s getting the shots he wants.

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Bruins and Ravens and Wins: Hey, WHY?

It’s all so blasé, a profoundly bland kind of humdrum yeah, so what? Even for those who actually pay attention, it gets taken for granted, but for the majority of people here in the capital of Canada an incredible sporting success story is little known and cared about less. Folks might have heard that one of those cute university sports teams, the one at Carleton – yeah, and it’s not even the hockey team, I think it’s basketball – well, it wins. A lot. A few national championships there, some will know; they’ll even sometimes play a game at the home of the NHL Senators. (Most recent commercial nomenclature: Canadian Tire Place. What it’s not called, but is: House of Hockey Worship; Puck Pagoda; Temple of Higher Shinny.) The Sens are fairly supportive, doing their good corporate-citizen best, but this remarkable basketball story, even with maxed-out local interest, gets the Place less than half full.

So listen up, Ottawa. Be warned, Canada! And pay attention down there, Excited States of Basketball – the Carleton University Ravens are poised to do something long thought to be undo-able, for any sports team, anywhere.

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What, So We’re a RUGBY Family Now?

UPDATE: A revised and condensed version of this sportsy meditation on sonship and daddery appeared at the on-line long-form sportswriting site The Classical on November 26, 2014. I still like the sprawling ME-ness of this piece, but the tighter form @Classical has lots to recommend it, too, even apart from costing you less time!

The thunder began at 5:45 a.m. The shower is next to our bedroom, and Rugby Boy was in it. (Spoiler alert: this time, he did not flood the bathroom.) I tried to imagine myself back into dreamland, but I fear the thunder. 6:13: Size 11 hooves rattle the beams as a herd of buffalo thunder manfully to the kitchen. (Wow, I think. Half an hour from bed to breakfast. He’s getting faster!) It didn’t look like dreamland was an option, but after a few more rumbles of downstairs thunder, I heard the sonic boom of the front door banging shut. 6:45! Wow the second. He’s going to be early for practice! What had gotten into my son?

Where it started: Rugby School, England. Young Ellis picked up the ball and the rest is rugby.

Where it started: Rugby School, England. Young Ellis picked up the ball and the rest is rugby.

I’d thought that I might get out of bed and bike over to see Thunderhoof and His Flailing Limbs on the high school rugby pitch for his 7:30 workout. Meanwhile, I continued doing what a tired old coot-of-sporting-colours does when sleep is hopeless: I thought about basketball. Rugby isn’t my game, and never was. Back in Canada, I’m a wanna-be hoops guru again. I’m reading and noting, observing practices and networking, and obsessing over possibilities and plans, to say nothing of all the technical adjustments and teaching points my stormy brain whips up for imaginary teams. (Fire in the belly: sometimes it feels more like heartburn.) I want to blame Thunder Bunny the Rugby Boy for my broken sleep, but his crashing about only punctuates my sentence of wakefulness. Besides, going to rugger practice with him might be <yawn> fun.

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Running in Canada, Heading for Home

Generally, I don’t miss the traffic-dodging adrenaline or the lung-scrubbing atmospheric particulates that are involved in getting out for a run in my eastern hometown of Dalian, to say nothing of Beijing. Still, running was sometimes good for me in China. Running is like writing is like prayer, for that matter: frequently, it doesn’t feel like something I want to do until I’m already in the act. (And hey, don’t you assume that, after arrival in today’s Dedicated Writing Niche, I just spent the first 95 minutes hunting Web distractions and brainstorming vision statements for non-existent basketball clubs! Sheesh. You people get so personal sometimes.) So here I am, talking about what I think about when I think about running, especially back home in a Canadian summer.

There’s lots to ponder about running, and about what happens between the ears when we do. I think about all kinds of things when I run. (I also play stale pop tunes in the jukebox of my brain.) I think about the differences between China and Canada. (I rehearse what I should have said in decades-old conversations.) I think. (I think I think.)

I think: I never went for runs like these in China.

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Ravens Back Tigers Into Corner and Peck Them Into Slump-Shouldered Helplessness

They only hit one three-point shot in the first quarter this time, unlike the six bombs they dropped on the startled heads of the young Memphis Tigers last Saturday night, but the Carleton Ravens still led by 11 after a quarter. Memphis, after overwhelming the UOttawa Gee-Gees (and their sad-sack practice jerseys) in the second half Sunday and blitzing the McGill Redmen Monday in Montreal, were back in the Ravens Nest to show that their fourth quarter against Carleton in game one represented the Real Tigers, not the 32 they were down late in the third of their 86-76 loss in the first game of their Canadian tour.

They couldn’t do it.

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Ravens Run Tigers Out of the Gym. Almost.

The place wasn’t even full, for one thing. As the Memphis Tigers returned to the floor 10 minutes from tip-off for the final, all-flushes-flying, let’s-get-this-party-started portion of their pre-game warmup, there were still far south of a thousand spectators in the Ravens’ Nest at Carleton University. True, it was a Saturday night in August, and the students weren’t back yet, but how often do we get to see top American college teams up close?

A long way from home, and a rude Ottawa welcome.

A long way from home, and a rude Ottawa welcome.

Hot young Division One coaching star Josh Pastner knows his stuff. (Gettin’ a little chubby, though!) He knew Carleton coach Dave Smart’s Raveniculous record – 10 Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) titles in the last 12 seasons – though his ‘Net research was a year out of date, citing nine McGee Trophies in eleven. He knew the Ravens were a precise, rapid-fire machine on offence, and had heard, no doubt, of their fanatical intensity. He probably tried to communicate this to his high-jumping, young squad. He failed, as he might have known he would.

After all, even last year’s Tigers benchwarmers are used to home crowds of

Not the Ravens' Nest. The Tigers home experience.

Not the Ravens’ Nest. The Tigers home experience.

nearly 18,000, as they play in

the same FedEx Forum where the NBA’s Memphis Grizzlies do, and not in this bland, amateurish northern equivalent of a so-so American high school gym. As do all the American players who come north for a summer tour of Ottawa, his lads learned.

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Spurs Win Again. We Don’t Get It.

I expected to be watching Game Seven of the NBA Finals Friday morning — I’m in China, lest ye forget — and instead I wrote this.

SPURS IN FIVE?! WHO CALLED THAT?

Nobody. Cuz we believe “the team with the best player wins”, cuz the NBA has marketed the hell out of individualism. And MJ did, and Shaq probably was, and so was Tim Duncan, once upon a time, but even back then it was always a team deal with the Spurs.

I forecast San Antonio in seven, so I’m still not adjusted. I’m programmed for an epic climax, as games 6 and 7 in 2013 were the best pair of basketball struggles I’ve seen, what, ever? At least since the Magic Lakers and the Celtic Birds in the ’80s. With the Spurs’ early air-conditioning this year, I’m revising history: they actually won last year, too, even though LeBron James held up the trophies and preened and narcissized “I’m not supposed to be here!” (Sorry, kid king. Noticing the clay feet more than is charitable.)

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NBA Playoffs: I’ll Ask You One More Time

Well, I’ve been busy, that’s why there haven’t been more NBA cud-chewing. I had an earlier series of NBA questions about the fire-breathing, where’s-the-basketball gossip-fest that the NBA Finals have made of themselves. Anyway, been runnin’: two weeks left of school, and three weeks in this amazing country. (If you’d like a sense of what it’s like following the NBA from China, there’s this blow-by-commercial-blow account from another Miami-in-the-Finals episode of Sports TV in the Middle Kingdom.) Anyway, Game 5 starts in an hour. Here we go.

Slingshot Lewis. It goes *in*, though, and has for a long time.

Slingshot Lewis. It goes *in*, though, and has for a long time.

Can you imagine how brilliant a shooter Rashard Lewis could’ve been had someone taught him how at a younger age? What would that behind-the-head slingshot, what little kids trying to hoist a rock towards an unreachably high rim, look like if he’d been drafted by the Spurs and coached by shot-meister Chip Engelland? (Surely, not like this.)

Is it necessary to point to subterranean racism when LeBron’s cramping in game one draws the howls of Internet Toldja Boys reminding us that he’s not only human but morally inferior? (Answers, like a jerk, his own rhetorical question: Yes.)

How do the Game One officials miss that four-steps-after-the –bounce journey by LeBron – even James Harden only takes three in his chronic travels – with the change in direction after the first two? (The Jerk, again: it was the Superstar call, plus he did it so smoothly. They froze. That would’ve been an oh-s—t moment in the whistle-blower film review.) Or does the fact that I’m still harping about the best players on the planet getting away with sloppy face-ups and 2 or 3 extra steps on drives — passes that my mediocre high school players never got — a sign of rampant resentment and unresolved OCD issues? (Don’t answer that.)

Was that meaningless last-minute corner three by Kawhi Leonard actually brilliant teamsmanship by Ginobili to get him feeling good heading for game 2, or am I just too Spursy? (No need to reply to that one, either.)

When it rains in San Antonio, does it always pour? (Meteorological Heat-check – get it? tee-hee – Metaphor Alert! An MHMA!)

What in the world were we seeing in Games 3 and 4?

How did the Spurs just keep getting better when the jock punditocracy wrote them off starting, when, 2009? And especially after the Thunder threw a wrench in that dominant playoff run San Antonio was on in 2012? (Back then, it looked like the Spurs had been solved. Remember?)

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