Somebody Won: NCAA Basketball, UConn & Me(aning)

Shed that dolorous duvet of despair! The world is your oyster! said the Dread Voice of Unrelenting Pomposity. I’ve heard that voice before.

Me: Umm. What. Where’s the. What? I don’t even, like, like oysters.

Dread Voice: It’s a metaphor. Rise from thy couch, o scribe of the never-ending playground.

Me: I have a bad feeling about this.

DVUP: It is The Tuesday After. Evening has fallen in a hemisphere hungry for wisdom. Awake! Toll the bell! Ease their pain! And so on.

Me: Okay. Go on. I think I know what you’re going to say.

DVUP: The Madness has ended. The light is fading on the many Shining Moments. They need your strength and your vision and many, many words.

Me: How about a thousand? And while you’re here, why do they still call it March Madness when the Final Four is in April?

DVUP: Marketing. “April Antics” doesn’t scan. But enough of your irreverent frippery and procrastinative verbal flatulence, o bleary exile of the hardcourt heavens! Speak, for by Wednesday the Final Four is a dead letter. Speak, for the Madness cannot be said to have ended, truly, without your closing pronouncements. Speak, for the roundball world cannot rest easily, absent the soothing balm of your counsel and insight. And yes, 1000 of your words will nearly give them a picture. Go forth and type-ify.

Me: Dread Voice, I think you’re making fun of me again. Alright. I’m going. Do I have to use all those big words?

DVUP: Whatever. Get at it, worm.

The Dread Voice is always so encouraging.


For those of you keeping score, I picked none of the Final Four, but neither did you. I only got one right after the NCAA men’s basketball tourney got down to sixteen teams, and then went oh-fer again in picking the semifinal winners. I had Wisconsin, whom I’d configured as the Purehearted Badgers of the Right Student-Athlete Way, slaying the Evil Wildcats, they of the temporary study-vacation in Lexington, Kentucky and by the way what in the world were they majoring in, anyway? Billy Donovan, whom I’m old enough to remember as the dogged, over-achieving, once-was-chubby, sweaty Providence College whippet in an early VHS coaching video by Rick Pitino – c’mon Billy, that’s right, Billy, quickquickquickBilly, attaboyBilly! – was going to lead a plucky crew of talented (but not disgustingly so) Florida Gators over the 10%-graduating, barred-from-the-2013-tournament-due-to-academic-under-achieving, beat-my-Blue-Devils-in-the-’99-title-game Connecticut Huskies. Wrong again, and usually.

I watched some highlights, and viewed some of the usual post-game interviews and overheated analysis. It wasn’t good for my biases. I couldn’t help liking the Kentucky kids, the quiet humility and grace of Aaron Harrison (and I’m a sucker for those shots of his coach-Dad and lovely Mom awaiting his hugs in the stands), the smile and wit of Julius Randle (who – surprise! – isn’t a beast at all when viewed as a person!). Sheesh, even Smooth John Calipari was appealing and funny, though I guess that’s how he gets six of America’s top 20 high schoolers to come to Kentucky. (Who knows? He might even be sincere, as unlikely as that sounds.)

And although my coaching profited greatly, back in one of those days, from the rebounding and defensive drills I’d stolen learned from UConn’s former pitbull boss, Jim Calhoun, I’d long felt the Huskies were pretty much symptomatic of the worst of college ball. (Admission: the scenes of Ray Allen, acting horrifically, while his character Jesus Shuttlesworth is being corrupted by college recruiting – and college money, and college women – in Spike Lee’s He Got Game, may have spilled over into my opinion of the real-life – if that’s real life – Huskies of Storrs, Connecticut.) (Recommendation: the truly relentless, but not pompous, writer Dave Zirin has a blistering reality check on the UConn win here. It’s discouraging, but excellent.) Still, Calhoun was great, I must admit, and his hand-chosen former player, Kevin Ollie, is doing a brilliant confidence-job only two years into his coaching career, though his massacre of English syntax in front of millions does confirm, I must also admit, my cynical view of the “student-athlete” phenomenon in at least that corner of the NCAA playground. (Cleansing breath. Better.)

Kentucky beat a really fine Wisconsin team, and were pretty tough and resilient for a bunch of freshmen. UConn dismantled Florida with gritty defending and togetherness. These were real basketball teams, for all their blemishes. After striking out on my hoped-for Canadian content in the Final Four – the WigginsFest Final™ was such a fine fairytale, no disrespect intended to the masculinity of these fine young scholars – and even picking the finalists wrongly, I had the slightest measure of redemption in the championship result. My fairly ignorant distaste for this Kentucky team, though I’m sure the ‘Cats do contain a toxic dose of the excesses of American “amateur” sport, had been sweetened by little snippets of their play and of their personalities. (And gosh, those blue uniforms are as great as great, just classic.)

Still, I was gratified and pleased to see seniors, to see a team of more than six-months’ acquaintance, to see the kids who hadn’t bailed out of Storrs when the NCAA hammer came down, gain a victory. It’s not pure, and I’m not utterly naïve, but there was a storyline there that I could finally get behind, and from this distance – I live in China, and didn’t see a single game – the mythmakers of CBS had only limited access to my mind and heart. Eventually, though, I found that my self-prescribed enthusiasm for the Ol’ College Ball Try, while still strong, was unsustainable. (Oops, I’m lapsing into Dread Voice vocabulary. Sorry.) I’m a little relieved that it’s over, honestly, and maybe you are, too.

However: even on TV, even in a temple of athletic and corporate excess like the Cowboys’ opulent football dome, even when the live action is a distant rumour for most of the 80,000 attendees who mostly paid hundreds to watch the scoreboard video screens, even in the ever-buffering banality of my laptop’s post-game reports, even when the game itself sometimes seems like a tiny sweet centre to a sour swirl of marketing — basketball is great. I’m still a believer, I still want to coach, and I’m betting the game can still bring me chills and fulfillment. I’m not always sure whether that’s a blessing or a curse. I’m betting on the former, though I’m probably leading with my heart.     

Comment (1)

  1. Buck

    I had 5 of the Elite Eight, only one of the Final Four, and the mighty Gators were no match for the dogs.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *