My Love of Basketball
by: The Cold Hard Truth
Long ago, I fell in love with basketball. I was 5 years old and living in Columbia, Missouri. My neighbor was an elderly woman named Mrs. Rice. In reality, she probably wasn't elderly - probably the same age I am now. One day while playing outside, Mrs. Rice approached me and handed me a brand new Voit basketball. It was a rubber ball. I didn't know anything about basketball and was not yet a connoisseur of basketballs and their quality. I just thought it was cool. She gestured towards a rim that was attached to her old, wooden garage and explained that I needed to dribble the ball and then throw it into the basket. It was love at first sight.
Now as I look back on it, I realize that the rim wasnít 10 feet high. The court was undersized and made of gravel. There was no place to run fast - like I ever could anyway - and mysteriously, that net would always get replaced as it wore out. There was no place to play an entire game. There was only room to shoot the ball, and shoot I did for hours. One thing that was plentiful was time, and there was plenty of room to think about ďstuffĒ as I practiced shooting. It was on that court that I developed a habit of shooting baskets and thinking about life, and I have carried that habit with me for 50 years.
I wore that ball out, until it was bald and I could see the under-threads on the seams. I never thought about why Mrs. Rice had this brand-new ball. I donít think she had kids, and if she did, they were all grown-up and long gone from their home by them. I bought my first basketball to replace Mrs. Rice's ball, another Voit, and wore it out too...and then another...and another. I think Mrs. Rice probably gave me one of the great gifts anyone has ever given me.
I moved away from Columbia in 3rd grade. I left Missouri a Tiger fan and a big basketball fan. I did return once to say hi to Mrs. Rice and to see my court, but it was only for a moment. Every place I have lived since then, I have had the pleasure of playing basketball and making friends. I have probably made more lasting friendships because of this great sport than with any other activity in my life. I also was lucky enough to coach my two sons in Upward Basketball. I have enjoyed battling my two sons playing 1-on-1 until they finally grew into adults and gained the pleasure of finally beating me. I still play them close and claim a moral victory for even competing. I don't know what I would do without basketball in my life.
Then on March 13, 2020, I learned what that might feel like. March Madness was cancelled. It was a tough year for many reasons for all of us. I still shot baskets and played ball privately with my boys during the summer on our home court. My court does have regulation height goals and an area probably 6 times the size of Mrs. Riceís driveway. I got to watch the NBA play in a "bubble" which was fun. However, there is just something special about March Madness. It is a time friends come together and share the great moments experienced in college basketball, and when it's missing, there is a part of me that's missing too.
Then, incredibly, we started playing college basketball again in November. It was empty gyms, weird and altered schedules, and no promise of a finale in March and early April. I watched Luka Garza, the center for Iowa, outscore the opposing team for an entire half. I felt like I was watching Wilt Chamberlain again. In the Missouri Valley Conference, they had made the decision to play opponents back-to-back, which is really a tough thing to do. I was excited to watch two really good teams, Drake and Loyola-Chicago clash. On February 13, surprising Drake (19-1) led Loyola of Chicago (17-3) by 3 at halftime. However, in the second half of that game, Loyola outscored Drake 50-20 and won by 27. The very next day on the very same court, Drake held Loyola to 50 points for an entire game and won 51-50. As a coach or player, how do you lose by 30 in the second half one day and win the next day by 1 against the same team? That is what makes college basketball so special. Both teams made the tournament - they each deserve their spots and will be fun to watch.
There were other surprises. I don't think anyone expected Michigan to be as good as they are this year. Cade Cunningham has put Oklahoma State on his back the last month of the season and the Cowboys are legitimate. That team deserves better than a 4 seed. I also think Loyola got ripped off with their 8 seed. This team is the #1 defensive team in the tournament and is in the Net Ranking and KenPom Top 10. I am very pleased that 101 year old Sister Jean gets to go to the game and cheer for her team. I understand that love for my team too!
The SEC was surprisingly deep and has very physical teams this year. I personally think Mississippi deserved an invite to the dance considering their tough conference competition. I also like the depth of the Big 10 and Big 12. On the other hand, the ACC seems a little overrated this year. The Pac-12 is again trending towards the weaker side. One early season example showed where Pac-12 champ Oregon lost to the SEC's 7th best team Mizzou. This will be a year without Kentucky or Duke. A year where Michigan State needed a late season surge to get in the tourney, and North Carolina is not themselves. This is a year where Virginia and Kansas enter March Madness having bowed out of their conference tournaments. Kansas may have doomed Oklahoma by having a COVID positive player. Now the Sooners are feeling the impacts of that situation leading into the first week.
My two biggest complaints other than some suspect seedings are the Committee making Drake play Wichita State and Michigan State play UCLA. Those 11-seed matchups could have been reversed. Give the "Mid-Major" teams an opportunity to beat a "Blue-Blood" team on a neutral court. What a wasted opportunity to make the tournament even more fun. The other big mistake - Belmont. They started the year 24-1...finished 26-4. No NCAA bid and No NIT bid. Yes, schedule matters, by their omission is so ridiculous.
Finally, we have some very interesting first round games. A talented Abilene Christian team goes against Texas; a very good Liberty team will play Oklahoma State, Arkansas plays a dangerous one loss Colgate team, and how good is Winthrop? Donít sleep on that team. I think having all these games played in Indiana is a really cool deal, and I definitely think it benefits Big 10 teams like Purdue and Illinois, who are very familiar with the area and donít have to travel very far. I also think the closeness will lead to some really fun and competitive games. A reduced crowd will take away advantages for larger schools. Something special is about to happen.
Actually, something special always happens whenever and wherever there is basketball. It was special for me at age 5 and it has been special every day of my life from 5 to 56. Last year cheated us a little bit. Something was taken away in 2020 that I always took for granted. This year we are lucky enough to get it back, and I for one am so very thankful. This is the sport I love, and I hope I can enjoy it with my friends until Iím 101 years old like Sister Jean! Best of luck to all my CBCC Dirty-Dawg friends. I hope your March Madness is as great as mine is about to be.