Saturday, March 19, 2011

They Died With Whatever Brand Is In the Coach's Shoe Contract On

Boston University's basketball team did about as much as any 16 seed ever does in the NCAA tournament last night. They created respect.

BU gave Kansas a bad 25 minutes. Their best player, John Holland, proved he was perfectly capable of competing at the highest level of college basketball. A random sampling of post-game neutral opinion on the Internet taken by yours truly reveals that commentators and fans thought the other BU kids gave a good account of themselves as well, which they did. For those of you with a mathematical bent, let the record show BU earned the only statistic on sports respect we have -- it covered.

All for naught of course. It is possible for a basketball team to play on even terms or even be ahead of an opponent that outmatches it on physical terms (especially height and breadth). This feat, however, requires enormous amounts of energy, which is why it almost never last for the full 40 minutes of a game. The BU players, especially Holland, got too tuckered in the second half to maintain shooting form, Kansas starting running off misses, and the inevitable defeat entered its rout stage.

This had to be a terribly sad experience for everyone on the BU side. Losing is always awful, and no loss is ever awfuller than that of an elimination game. But by the time BU's plane lands at Logan after escaping the dreadful pesthole that is Tulsa, Oklahoma, I hope they're over it. Sixty-six other teams are going to lose the 2011 NCAA tournament, too. It is one event where HOW one loses is more important than the fact of losing.

Better to be BU this a.m. than Tennessee, Villanova or Georgetown, power conference powers whose first round losses were the cap to seasons in various stages of disintegration, or in Tennessee's case, a program smashed to atoms. At a program like BU, where the whole point of the entire season is to grab that one chance for 40 minutes on the big stage, knowing you didn't get stage fright or fluff your lines ought to make the memory of defeat a proud one -- eventually anyhow.

In its way, BU basketball is the exemplar of all Boston-area college basketball. It is the extreme reflection of the most important fact of about that sport in this city and why I always respect those who play it. They have to be strong and inner-directed people because, frankly, nobody else cares about what they do.

That's as true, relatively speaking for our "big power" Boston College as it is for, say, Bentley and Stonehill in D-II. Since moving to the ACC and demolishing all its natural rivalries at a single stroke, BC basketball has operated in a perfect cloud of civic indifference, and replacing Al Skinner didn't seem to change that much. BC hoops is a second-class citizen of Boston College athletics, let alone Boston sports in general. Losing an NIT home game so that the women's hockey team could practice ice time, well, let's just say that won't happen at conference rival Duke in the near future.

BU basketball, however, takes neglect to an art form. Always has, going back to when coach Rick Pitino was reducing to stuffing flyers promoting home games under the doors of Warren Towers dorm rooms over 30 years ago. Face it, if basketball wasn't essentially a pretty cheap sport to operate, John Silber would've abolished it, too.

Not even the student body cares Make that especially the student body doesn't care. Cases in point: Josh Gee (BU '07) and Hope Gee (BU '11). Total BU home games seen in their seven winters at the school (one year abroad): Three or four. And that's above average!

"Not a lot of BU fans in that crowd," Hope observed as we watched the game on TV last night. I responded that true of every game they play, let alone in Oklahoma. She agreed, and added that the one time she had gone to a home game it was because of the free Coolio concert afterwards.

There's where you stand as a BU player, or a Boston-area college player in general. You are outranked in status by third-tier over-the-hill rappers.

I don't want to come off like my old pal Ted Sarandis here. It's not the city's fault, or sports fans' fault that Boston isn't a college basketball hotbed. It's just a fact, and not necessarily a bad fact. All things considered, who'd WANT to live in a burg where college sports were the biggest, best and/or only public entertainment options?

No, my point is that Boston-area college basketball players know this score, and persevere anyhow. They accept being on their own as part of their deal as scholarship athletes. In effect, to become a BU, BC, etc. player is to accept living four years in a permanent spiritual road game. Whatever positives you draw from the experience will come from what you, your teammates and your coaches create for yourselves. I'd say that's a very grown-up state of affairs for college-age humans. Which colleges are always bleating is the way all of college is supposed to be.

There's at least 40 minutes worth of videotaped evidence that what the 2011 Boston University basketball team created for itself was pretty damn positive indeed.


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