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Getting Your Howdy On: SIV Week Is Here

It’s my mother’s birthday. Were she still shuffling, flat-footed and bunion-aching, along this mortal coil of frayed and ravelled rope, she would be turning 95 today. She would be steamed. I’m so angry I could spit! she used to mutter when one of us, not always me, would race heedlessly past the wide but certainly finite fields of her patience. She loved life, doted on her family and especially those teeming crowds of grandchildren gathered around every Howden turkey. She’s a woman who suffered, and yet got pretty much what she had hoped for in life. In her last months, though, she’d had enough, and was quite-content-thank-you to be DONE with sleeping and waking and eating and all these things. One day in a hospital bed, she awoke, looked around with confusion and (at least the way I read it) growing dismay, and said, “Am I still here?”

Today is Enid Day. She died in 2006. (I remembered her, in one of my favourite and least-saleable pieces in JHdotCOM history, here: http://jameshowden.com/2006/11/enid-mary-elizabeth-howden/ . Sorry, still unable to hyperlink.) Her birth-day is when we most remember her. I got a note from Big Sister that looked forward to her third Enid Day in Nunavut, where she her last few years of “retirement” teaching some of the damaged and despairing children and youth of Cape Dorset. She was enticed there by my ex-wife, with whom she lives. (That’s a pretty good story, I figure, though not mine to tell, not yet.) So, happy Enid Day to them, to all my relations, and to you and me.

In memory of her, I have declared this SIV Week. I’m not sure who was more stubborn, Enid or my Dad, though I’d say both changed astral planes more easily than they often changed their minds. The stubbornness I rue with such arm-waving in my fourth son informs me — eventually, ruefully, guiltily — of just how cement-headed I so often and so chronically am. Solution? StubbornnessIsVirtue Week. SIV. If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em; if you can’t alter it, exalt it! Winston Churchill was stubborn. So were Gandhi, King, Teresa. So am I, if only I could beat that adamantine forehead of mine against more meaningful walls.

Therefore, this having been declared SIV Week, I’m taking several half-finished things that I’ve written over the past while — and, for various reasons, chief among them cowardice, fatigue and cerebral untidiness, haven’t had the poop to complete — and I’m GETTING THEM BLOODY WELL DONE. (I also remain, certainly, cursed by Enid’s endlessly repeated counsel that if a job’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well, which has led to more procrastination and dismayed unfinish-ing than either of us can abide.) So, first you’ll see, in the It’s All About Sports section, my final Final 4 basketball thoughts, though that American college hoops lollapalooza finished three weeks ago. Other gottawritems are even older, but won’t look so obviously out-of-date because they’re less particular.

So: I’m finishing stuff. I’m clearing the decks. Spring cleaning of the neocortical kind. Purging. Loosening my load, in hopes that new and fresh things might follow, but mainly out of brute determination to do-stuff-my-way-even-if-it-makes-no-sense-to-readers-’cause-Mum-never-gave-up-and-mulishness-should-sometimes-bear-fruit-even-if-it-looks-like-a-dungpile. It’s MY dungpile. I made it all by myself! Happy Enid Day, and Happy StubbornnessIsVirtue Week!!

The rest, below, is in explanation of what this site has done and does when it’s not SIVW.

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NCAA Hoops Lookback: The Fatal Four

Due to, in no particular order, the following factors –

  • a super-concentrated acidic splash by John Oliver, indicting and ridiculing the entire NCAA basketball enterprise (can’t hyperlink right now, but it’s here: http://www.newsmax.com/TheWire/john-oliver-ncaa-rant-players/2015/03/18/id/630823/ ),
  • my own manic attention to the CIS version of March Madness, spent watching the games of the (Ontario University Athletics) Wilson Cup and the following week’s Final 8 in Toronto (and a blizzard of hoops-related words that can be accessed just down there),
  • we don’t have a television hook-up, and apparently one of Howdy’s Current Foundational Principles (HCFP) is the refusal to pay for live-streaming of games on my laptop,
  • I don’t have many basketball friends,
  • increasing miles on the spectator-sport odometer, games-related grumpiness, impatience with commercials, crankiness over announcers’ clichés, and
  • (possibly?) growing good sense –

I didn’t watch any of the opening weekend of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. (HCFP No. 2: the “play-in games” earlier in the week to decide the last four Cinderellas invited to the Big Dance of 64 do not count. Round 1 of the tournament starts Thursday, not Tuesday. Lines must be drawn. <cough> Ahem. Right. It’s not climate-change denial or global terrorism, but from tiny seeds does a mighty apocalypse grow.)

(None of which explains why I’m writing about it so late. I plead lethargy, sloth, intermittent apathy and mild existential angst. And books. I was tired of writing there for a bit — well, my own, anyway. Glad that’s all over now!)

Okay, and since truthfulness is the foundation of all human virtues, and I do aspire to virtuosity of some kind or another, I clarify: I did invite myself to Bernie and Wendy’s living room for the second Gonzaga game in the opening weekend, in case they failed again to make it to the Sweet 16. The Zags did, though CBS had switched to Oklahoma/Dayton, which had very little interest for me even though Dyshawn Pierre is an Ontario kid I liked reading about from China last March, during the Flyers’ stirring run ascent to the Sweet 16, to national jock consciousness and, lest we forget, to millions of new dollars flowing to a previously obscure Ohio school. (Well, obscure from an athletic point of view, that is. To me. I know nothing of its standing in biomedical research or the teaching of the humanities.  And who would care about THAT?)

Yes, and I waited ‘til the actual weekend of the second weekend — also known as The Elite Eight — jimmied the rear door at Wendy and Bernie’s (twice), and lingered like an especially blue-cheesy smell in their otherwise pleasant back kitchen. Here’s what I saw:

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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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April Foolishness

Fool’s Errand No. One: I check my site statistics as if they were, like, I don’t know, like an obsession or something. I have accepted (provisionally) that I do want my work to be read, however, so my growing readership is interesting and possibly even significant, at least to me. So: my weekly page views are regularly hitting a previously too-ambitious target, and March was nearly 40% higher than my previous best month. Yay! Thanks for reading and recommending, folks. Subscription is an option. I’d like to hit a hundred.

(April is already muttering, with surly menace: Yeah, but what’ve you done lately? You better keep cranking, because if my numbers take a dump, then March don’t mean nothin. I think April is like the worst kind of sports fan. Or father.)

F.E. No. 2: I predicted exactly zero of the NCAA men’s basketball Final Four. After the tournament Madness had been reduced to 16 teams, I tried again. I still only got one of the four teams right. Mind you, I was picking with a maple-syrup flavoured hockey puck for a brain, and maybe now that there are no Canadian players left in the Dance, I’ll be more rational, but I doubt it. I’ll be voting the ABK ticket: Anybody But Kentucky. Even if I lose, I win (sort of): my worst fears about the corruption of college hoops will be confirmed, and the sporting apocalypse will be one step closer. Yay!

And in other April Foolishness: The Fourth turns 14 in a few days, and has been pumped about gags he could pull on his stodgy, sticks-in-the-mud parental units.

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More (NCAA) Canada: 16 Teams, 8 Maple-Sweet Predictions

A rough day, and he was so honest/heartbroken/humble afterward. Barely 19, and the hype’s not his fault. (Stay, Andrew. Stay, my idealism urges, but it ain’t happenin’.) That’s Dwight Powell with the block.

So, okay. It’s not called the Nearly Canadian Athletic Association, but the 2014 men’s HoopMadness tournament has been unusually big news way north of Kentucky. We’re down to the Sweet 16, the semi-finals of the four regions. There will be no Wiggins tale of the family tape looming in the finals, because Andrew peed the bed and scored all of four points against Stanford; mind you, the Cardinal started two Canadians, so you can understand his anxiety. (Older, nearly anonymous Nick outshone – or at least, didn’t so notoriously wilt in front of the basketball world – his kid brother, hitting five points off the bench in Wichita State’s gripping loss to Kentucky. Well, I read that it was gripping; I’ll try to download it and other notable games from the opening rounds, as there’s no live watching from Dalian.) There’s also no Tyler Ennis, the rising star who’d formerly played in Wiggins’s shadow on that killer AAU team from Toronto (CIA Bounce) and Canada’s national youth teams, as Syracuse was knocked out by Dyshawn Pierre and Dayton, a still-less heralded Canuck player and small-time school. The Perfect Little PG, Kevin Pangos, didn’t have enough help to lead Gonzaga past a loaded Arizona team. Yeah. So, my fairytale – Once upon a time there were two big Wigginses, and one lived high in a basketball palace, while the other lived in the basement of a modest apartment building in Wichita, Kansas…— didn’t end the way it was meant to, and Cinderella and her slippers had nothing to do with it.

(Hey, enough about me – how’s your bracket?)

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Never Mind Obama’s Bracket: MINE’s Got More Canada!

Happy Spring, lovers of green and newness and absurd levels of attention to American college sports! That’s me, and maybe you, too.) My mind has been mainly not thinking much about Madness south of the border – or way way west of the West Regional, in Dalian, China – what with jobs and obligations of spirit and a sweet little community that thinks March is a heavenuva good time to celebrate New Year’s. (Happy to you!) The Thursday night games of the opening weekend of the NCAA tournament are all in the books, and I accidentally know a couple of results. I also know that I (again) won’t likely be able to watch anything on-line. But I’m in.

The True North, deep and talented.

My bracket is done. (Like yours, it’s likely already wrecked, but I’m not sure yet.) It’s an impulsive, ill-informed, laundry-biased, ancient-loyalty-skewed and tremendously Canuck-friendly set of predictions. I’ll spare you the details, but I do have a shocking winner, a fair slew of upsets, and a quality of analysis you’ll not likely see anywhere else. So let’s get right to it!

In round one, I have mild upsets: Stanford (10) gets through because its players really are students who play great ball (in many sports), and I know nothing about New Mexico except for gorgeous sunsets and the Navajo.

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Who Is This Man? A Frantic March Meditation

Joy? Outrage? Crucifixion? Palm branches?

And why is he so happy? (Is this happiness or madness?) Why do the people around him love him so much? (They do not know him, not really, but what they do know is good enough, thanks, and shut up, a–hole!)

Let’s say you don’t know who he is. Okay. Where is he? Who are these people? Why the outrageous joy? (Or is it Madness™? See, now I’m giving things away.) It’s a delirious Prodigal-Son-style homecoming, but they’ve never met the guy.

Does he look like a guide for the impressionable young? Did you think, Aha, no doubt! This man is an educator. (Did you really think that?) Well, he is. If the NCAA is full of “student-athletes” – and it is – then this is a teacher-mentor-rabbi-leader-cheerleader-huckster-salesman. He is a college basketball coach, and he is really good at what he does.

His name is Bruce Pearl.

What is he doing?

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Madness, Seen and Read

I didn’t watch a single regular-season NCAA basketball game this year. Some college hoops purists would snort that this puts me in the same category as (Sir) Charles Barkley, the NBA opinionator who parachutes down to see what higher (basketball) education has to offer to the pros, when national tournament frenzy grips the upper Americas. It puts me in the same boat as lots of people, actually, who join me in filling out a bracket — after ignoring the game all year — for all the unpredictable agony and ecstasy that reduce 64 hopeful squads to four, in two four-day weekends.

Sometimes, I can get some good video from here in Dalian. Often, though, madness takes its toll…

Unlike most late-March bandwagon-jumpers, though, I care about the college game, though I can’t watch any of it here in China. (I suppose I could try to stream games on my computer, but that’s not a hassle I volunteer for easily. It reminds me of my youth, when college games were hard to find on Canadian TVs, when even The Tournament was only partly available in the early rounds. That was before March Madness became a Brand.) I did see the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels live, minus their likely one-and-done Canadian star, Anthony Bennett, when they edged the Carleton Ravens in Ottawa last summer on a northern exhibition tour.

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CIS: Finally in Halifax

Friday, March 16

After a long and wonderful drive down with son Ben, once upon a time a basketball player himself, I am in Halifax for the Canadian March Madness, the Canadian Interuniversity Sport men’s basketball championship. It’s been here for the past 24 years, and mainly because I was always coaching (or recovering from it) during the March Break, I’d never made the trip down. It comes to Ottawa, where I live, next year, so I wanted to see it before it left its Maritime home. I was excited.

And upon arrival, road-weary and just a bit late for Friday’s game 1, I had a little spasm of disappointment. My eighth-row seats were beyond the baseline, not foul-line high as I’d been led to believe. The programme had a hasty feel to it, including two photos of players from the favoured Atlantic school which hadn’t even qualified and one mystery photo in which the tiny shorts worn by the player proved it be at least a dozen years out-of-date. Leafing through, the listing of national Players of the Year (the Mike Moser Memorial Trophy) was not only incomplete, but it misspelled the name of Eli Pasquale, one of the greatest players in CIS history. (Never mind the substitution of “it’s” for “its”.) Brandon University, the second seed in the tournament, had incorrect numbers for most of its prime players that had to be revised at tipoff. High school stuff. The Metro Centre is a fine facility that (mostly) doesn’t overwhelm the event — good crowds here are six or seven thousand, and they have occasionally had more than 10,000 — but the mural of the Saint Mary’s Huskies, a local team, winning the ’99 championship also has a distinctly high school feel to it.

My excitement took a temporary dip, but I emerged from Disappointment Mode before long. Here are some other quick impressions from the Friday games, the four quarterfinal matches of this “Final 8” tourney. For game summaries and general tournament information, please go to the CIS tournament website here. What follows are some quick-and-filthy-clean impressions from this basketball vagabond.

Game 1: The number one seed was one I’d questioned, as the Concordia Stingers had run up victories in the small and undistinguished Quebec conference. And Upset Special it was, as the Saint Mary’s Huskies brought tears to the eyes of championship players from their glory days with a last-second victory. Having placed second in an upset-filled Atlantic qualifying tournament, the HomeBoys took full advantage of the friendly crowd and a curiously bland Concordia team. Sophomore Mark McLaughlin hit the winning free throw, and his toughness belies his slender frame. Nice player. Took me awhile to get into the thing, as the atmosphere I’d expected with an AUS team in it didn’t kick in ’til the last several minutes. When it did, it made a difference. Nothing like home cooking, and Stinger All-Canadian Perrotte was held down. Energizing finish.

Game 2: Brandon v. Windsor. Windsor had knocked off Carleton in the Ontario UA final in their own peculiar barn, and they looked good for a awhile in their first trip to the Nationals in ages, but they didn’t guard Brandon’s point Yul Michel well at all. He’s very quick, and was continually allowed to go right to his favourite moves. This one had the feeling of being over before it should’ve been. When Windsor was down 8, it felt like more. And soon it was. Chris Oliver, Windsor’s coach, is known as an uber-dedicated coach, one of the best technical minds that we have. He’s still a young guy, though, and a quiet, reserved presence on the bench. Maybe I just favour a more activist stance from a hoops coach, but I wonder if he has the fire to inspire. I think we’ll see, because I expect Windsor to be good for long while with him. Brandon is a very talented group. They were more than full measure for the win, and maybe Windsor’s big game was last weekend over Carleton, a great win for their young coach. For his players, maybe being here was enough.

Game 3: University of Ottawa v. University of British Columbia. OU, by contrast with Windsor, looked more ‘n ready to be at Nationals. Beating Carleton, the 4-time national champion, twice during league play will do that for you, as will a two-point loss to them in the OUA East final. Their intensity gave them an early jump on UBC, a talented two-seed, and the Gee-Gees have the horses to run with UBC. Their gifted young point guard, Josh Gibson-Bascome, sat for much of the end of the first half with two fouls, which allowed UBC back in to the game. Casey Archibald hit an effortless jumper to bring the Thunderbirds back to within two at half, but Gibson-Bascombe was tremendous in the second, seeming imperious in answering every UBC challenge. He dominated the first six minutes of the second, mainly with surgical passing. In the Carleton-flavoured contingent where I’m sitting, he’s not very popular, but he and his mates were very tough down the stretch, and UBC just didn’t defend well enough. And so continues the T-Bird tradition of national flameouts, and so another all-Ottawa grudge match is set up for the semi-finals.

Game 4: Carleton v. Acadia. Well, I gave away this one, but there wasn’t much surprise here. Acadia was a surprise winner in the Atlantic, maybe the third best team in the AUS, but put together some wins when it counted. Within five minutes, though CU wasn’t shooting well, I smelled blowout. The Ravens’ suffocating, truly obsessive rebounding and defence had the Axemen perched on their frustrated heels. Acadia depended so much on one All-Canadian guard, Paulo Santana (he’s good, but first team A-C? Come on), and ooh-aah shot-blocks and dazzling dimes. One problem: Carleton neither cares for nor allows much of that to happen. Acadia limped to the dressing room with 17 points at half, and Carleton was already up 21 without having too much going smoothly on offence. The second half was even more stunning. Acadia managed 21 points in the half to only lose by 48… The referees hadn’t the heart to keep calling Acadia for all their charges in the second half, or it could’ve been worse. WOW. An unbelievable butt-kicking, and what a great rest for CU’s stars, especialy the chronically gimpy, two-time national Player of the Year, Osvaldo Jeanty. And because of the way CU is built, garbage time doesn’t allow the pressure to relent. The scrubs play hard and insist on rebounding, because that’s The Smart Way. Coach Dave went berserk and called an angry timeout over boxout failures when the lead was 32. And so now they have to beat OU again. I’m predicting an easy time for a change, not of Acadian proportions but more comfortably than they have in the last couple of years. OU’s inexperience at Nationals will show. And CU looked to be on an implacable mission in their Drive for Five. Incredible performance.

Tournament Time

It’s March Break for all the school kiddies, and I still feel like taking a week off. I spent a lot of years desperate for the break from the chalk-stained grind of teaching. I’d have put away my whistle by now, too, because high school ball was finished. Provincial championships were decided last Friday (and who won? I can’t believe how clueless I am these days). The days are longer and brighter and the ice and snow are melting furiously.

But the biggest sign of spring is good ol’ March Madness, the NCAA tournament back with all its hoary old stories that I can’t get enough of: the grizzled old coach faces his protégé, the little-known mid-major David faces the big-time razzle-dazzle Goliath, the hard-luck athlete triumphs over his disadvantaged background…(and who knows, he may even graduate one fine day!)

As much as I love Davids — the teams I coached were generally composed of skinny or lead-footed underdogs with slingshot dreams — I’m pulling for Duke. People say they’re the Evil Empire, that they’re the Yankees, for cryin’ out loud, but I don’t see them that way. They’re good because they’re GOOD, because Mikey recruited ’em good and made ’em better. They play hard. They play together. They graduate. And besides, I Was A Teenage Blue Devil, and later coached for years at that same small-town high school. (“Devils Rule!” was our football team’s favourite slobbering victory chant, which might have been a bit disturbing to our local church elders; thank God nobody paid much attention to high school sports! Whew.) In ’01, I went to a fall coaches’ clinic at Cameron Indoor Stadium, where we could watch the Dookies practice and then hear from Coach K and the boys about what they were trying to accomplish. Their practices were tough, disciplined, ferociously competitive and surprisingly profane.

American college athletics is a deeply hypocritical institution, in many ways, and the abuses in the name of big-time sport are easy to find and may be getting worse. But Lord help me, I still love it. And I’ll be trying to find televisions that receive the Tournament, which my home-rigged antenna most emphatically won’t. (We get TVOntario’s sweet and heady offerings, and the local French stations come in pretty well, thanks.)

And I don’t forget the CIS Nationals. The playing levels and, especially, the TV production values are much higher in the Excited States, but I’ll still be paying attention to the Canadian championships. I’ll be conflicted. My alma mater, McMaster, and its terrific coach Joe Raso will be trying to shed their bridesmaid status; they’ve won four CIS silver medals in his 14 years, so they’re in Vikings/Bills territory. Go, Marauders! If they play Carleton, the team I follow closest now, The Dynasty That Came From Nowhere (or perhaps the Smart family driveway), I can’t lose, I guess. Coach Dave is after his fourth consecutive title, and his teams are astoundingly focused. Go, Ravens!

Yes, and Go, Duke, too! And if the UCLA Bruins meet them in the Final Four, a hinted return to the glory days under John R. Wooden, the Wizard of Westwood and my hero, then I will be a little twisted up for that one, too. Go, Bruins! Go, Everybody! (Cripe, Syracuse even has a Canadian kid, Leo Rautins’s son, so I may even have to pull for the Orange a little. Yecch. But not Florida. Can’t stoop that far.)

And while we’re at it, God bless all the countries…