Dear Non-Tourney College Hoops: You’re Dead to Me (And I Can’t Believe It)
- Updated: January 27, 2010
It’s not about you. Really, it’s about me. Seriously. I’m a few years older. I’ve got new priorities. The world has changed. I’ve just moved on, and I’m…I’m…I guess I’m just at a different stage in my life. Something’s missing. That spark we once had is gone. OK, maybe it is a little bit about you. It’s….just…complicated. You still need me to explain? Well, I’ll try my best…
This all hit me kind of at once you see. I was trolling the Web yesterday and stumbled on the NBA Lottery mock draft that was (at the time) the featured story on ESPN.com’s home page. As I scrolled through the names, a feeling I’d been denying for years came to bear in blinding clarity. My love affair with college basketball (outside of March) had officially ended. This was only the confirmation of a downward spiral that had begun years and years ago. As I clicked through the names, it became startlingly apparent just how far apart we’d grown apart. Evan Turner. Derrick Favors. Donatas Motiejunas.Willie Warren. Ekpe Udoh. Who in the world were these guys, I thought to myself? How clueless had I become?
Out of the 14 players highlighted, I could match player and school to exactly seven of them (without cheating): Cuse’s Johnson; the three Kentucky kids in Wall, Cousins and Patterson; Turner, Aldrich and Favors. If you would’ve told me the schools for one or two others, a dimly lit bulb may have flickered in the recesses of my cranium. You might be wondering…and? So, what’s your point? Here’s the thing. I used to be a college hoops addict. It was to such a degree that my high school buddies – predominantly big sports fans themselves – genuinely gave me sh*! on account of the fact that I routinely tuned in to all of Big Monday or Super Tuesday including the 12:30 a.m. starts that gave me the unique ability among my peers to rattle off starting lineups from the likes of Hawaii and Long Beach St.
Granted, this was in the heyday of my college round ball obsession. Let’s say early to mid-90s to give it some specificity. Basically, my high school years. The confluence of a generally carefree existence and a life otherwise consumed by my own participation in high school sports, allowed me to dedicate Monday and Tuesday nights…and maybe Wednesday…plus afternoon weekends…to college hoops.
It was the era where the above-pictured UCLA team, led by a senior trio of Zidek, Edney and Eddie O’Bannon, took the title in ’94. It was when Scottie Thurman and the Big Nasty and “40 minutes of hell” led the Hogs to a title the following season. My hindsight is surely askew, but in my head and heart, it was a time when coaches were associated with programs and institutions for longer periods, teams played together over years and senior-led squads were not an anomaly. It also meant college basketball was consistently quality entertainment.
Fast-forward 15 years and regular season college basketball is all-but-dead to me. I’m sorry to say it, but it’s the truth. It used to be merely the Big Ten (and its mind-numbingly slow pace of play), then progressively more became offensive. Now, there is virtually nothing I find before March that isn’t inherently unwatchable. It doesn’t matter if it’s top-ranked teams playing in 110-decibel gyms. That doesn’t mean I don’t occasionally get sucked in for one reason or another (see: Wall vs. UConn). Still, the magic, for me, has for all intents and purposes left the arena.
Why? Probably a lot of reasons. Part of it is the tired ole sports fan mentality of the “good old days.” The potentially warped perception we may have that things were purer, cleaner, more honest, just plain better, “back then.” It has something to do with Bobby Knight not being on the sidelines at Alumni Hall, Pitino in red at Louisville, Heathcote and Keady gone for the Big Ten coaching fraternity, Tark the Shark and Rollie at Northwood?? But times, players, coaches and cultures change. That’s reality.
The other driving force is, of course, kids jumping ship earlier and earlier. I can’t keep up, nor can I blame them for bolting. Still, you look up for one second at the latest Orangemen tearing it up and then they’re gone. The entire Tarheels roster seems to turn over again and again — overnight. The idea of college teams learning to play together has essentially vanished. There simply isn’t enough time. And I can’t help but think the overall quality of play, predicated in large part because of that lack of continuity, suffers. It’s just different now. Ackles, Augmon, Johnson, Hunt, Anthony, Tark…that was when college hoops was the balls. Lethal Weapon III?! (/shaking head in wonder).
But it’s not the 90s anymore. I’m certainly not in my teens. And so it goes. Sadly, though, it means I bid farewell to college basketball until March. I’ll always have the memories.