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Confessions of a college basketball fan

Dan Thomas

Toward the end of the tournament, they were just tossing up attempts in vain, trying to connect on anything. And I’m sure once they were alone with their thoughts after the game, the silence was deafening.

Of course I’m not talking about Florida’s basketball Gators. I’m talking about the sportswriters covering the 2000 NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship whose best effort after the tournament was something like “Win smells like Mateen spirit.”

Not only do I have a powerful desire to have no idea what that smells like, but I have a feeling they could have done better. Look at what they have to work with in the final – the inexplicably named Udonis Haslem (too close to an anagram for “Shalom! U is done!” to be a coincidence) and a Michigan State small forward who goes by Mo Pete.



That’s what I’m going to miss about college basketball this year – debating whether “Speedy” Claxton is the next Steve Nash, or Brian Cardinal’s NBA prospects vis vis the World Wrestling Federation (he’s already got the kneepads). All we have left on the hardwood is the NBA playoffs, which packs sufficient passion and pageantry to make a corporate tax audit look like a West Lafayette, Ind., victory party. That is, unless the Knicks and Heat meet again in the playoffs, and then it’ll pretty much looks like that anyway.

Sure, some of it was ritual: Just three upsets in the first round; Valparaiso coach Homer Drew sowing the school’s recruiting budget into its own biology department in a desperate attempt to clone sharpshooting son Bryce in time for the first round; Lute Olson and his Celine Dion-thin (“Pssst – Need a ticket, buddy? I can do you one better”) Arizona squad making Dick Bennett look like he pulled off the most deft stroke of coaching genius since Goldie Hawn in “Wildcats” by leading a Wisconsin team with serious Y2K compliance issues into the Final Four. And speaking of Hoosiers, the mellow, gentle, new-age Bob Knight was there – briefly. And the tournament concluded, as it always does, with the soft-focus Michael Bolton soundalikefest “One Shining Moment,” half of which – as per tradition – is essentially a rebroadcast of the championship game that somehow made me think of Kerri Strug every time it showed Mateen Cleaves.



But there were surprises. Just look at our office basketball pool, which our resident 9-year-old college hoops guru won. (The new rule for 2001? “You must be this tall to beat 15 adults in the office pool.”). One No. 1 seed in the Final Four. Three-fourths of the twos and threes gone before the regional finals. And, of course, we had Ray Liotta, in his greatest role to date, leading unlikely Florida into the Final Four, a performance the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences blatantly overlooked in Oscars voting.

Sure, the NBA playoffs showcase great basketball for the defensively challenged – Bennett probably can’t watch without waves of intense nausea. I’m really looking forward to seeing how well Phil Jackson’s triple post offense fares in the first round since I can’t see Larry Eustaschy going triple postal all by himself like he did in the regional final. But with nothing to watch but the andro-fueled monster-truck home-run fest baseball has become, I’m already thinking about next year’s NCAA first round.

Do I have a favorite yet? You bet your sweet um 16 I do.

Dick Vitale – who I actually met once at school and found out is a really nice guy, kind of like Dick Vitale the TV persona on a handful of Xanax – already has tabbed Duke to win it all. I expect him to stick with it after changing his mind 104 times over the course of next year.

Me? I’m going to Stateline and putting all my money on Lamar.


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