And the Fifteenth Shall Be FirstNorfolk State University's basketball team made me look very foolish yesterday. Of course I loved it.
The first two rounds of the NCAA tournament are the only reason anyone who doesn't have the misfortune of being a fan of some school like Kentucky finds the event enjoyable. It gives dedicated, talented, utterly anonymous college kids the chance to be heroes for a day. That's more of a shot at that status than 99.999 percent of humanity ever gets, and "hero" is second only to "champion" in the sports chain of being.
The Norfolk State and Lehigh players are heroes today. Odds are prohibitive that come Sunday evening, they'll be dead, well, eliminated heroes. Who cares and so what. Whatever the price of glory is, they paid in full, and got what they paid for. All of sport's joys are fleeting. In compensation, they're awesomely joyous, and human beings have memories so that they can be recalled at will.
OK, philosophy over. Let's focus on the second of the two adjectives I used to describe the Norfolk State and Lehigh teams. Talented. They won their upsets not through malfeasance on the part of the beaten favorites, but through their own merits. Most of all, in a sport which always has and always will be dominated by the star system, they had the stars.
Kyle O'Quinn of Norfolk State and C.J. McCollum of Lehigh were the best players on the count in their games by huge margins. Now either the souls of Karl Malone and Chris Paul took over their bodies for a day, or they were always good players who happened to do their best facing their maximum challenge/opportunity, which is fancy of saying "star."
I hadn't heard of either guy until yesterday. There's entirely too much sports in the world for yours truly to follow Patriot League and MEAC basketball, and I daresay I've got company there. Yet these obscure seniors were able to kick the asses of their foes around the block for 40 minutes. Foes who were exclusively composed of the highly recruited products of the high school/AAU flesh market ESPN thinks is worthy of its own branch of programming.
This strongly suggests that a) human beings change a great deal between the ages of 18-22, and you'd think college basketball coaches would realize that, and b and more important), the world is not running a shortage of basketball talent. There are more than enough 18-year olds of ability and/or serious growth potential to go around for college basketball. Some teams are always going to run massive talent surpluses, the Kentuckys, North Carolinas, and Kansases of the world.
But Duke is one of the surplus-runners, too, and a fat lot of good that did them yesterday. Maybe the teams in the bottom halves of power conferences should spend more time looking at the high school players nobody else seems to want. That's what Al Skinner did quite well at BC for many years, and it sure worked better than whatever it is they're doing now.
The powers-that-be are always going to run that surplus. Like all other humans, high school kids are frontrunners. But the powers that aren't have one thing going for them. It may take a bunch of stars to win a championship. But it only takes one star to win one game against a team with a bunch.