Memory lane taints Final FourBy C.T. Bowen
© St. Petersburg Times
published March 20, 2003
Junior's recent homework assignment to learn about newspapers required yours truly to dig through the dusty college textbooks stored in the garage to provide him with a suitable glossary.
In the same orange crate sat a college yearbook from freshman year with a long-forgotten photo of a skinny, gimpy-kneed forward competing in an intercollegiate basketball game.
The career, if you can call it that, ended after one season when I transferred to another college, St. Bonaventure University, the campus for which is located in my hometown in upstate New York.
There has been a lot of discussion about the university of late. The alma mater made national headlines recently for: using an ineligible player who held a welder's certificate, not an associate's degree, after two years of community college; forfeiting its league wins and being kicked out of its end-of-the-year tournament; skipping its final two games of the regular season because of a players' boycott; and firing its university president who turned out to be part of the conspiracy that allowed the academically challenged player to enroll and play much-sought-after low-post defense.
No wonder they call this time of year March Madness.
For every corrupt coach and alleged student-athlete-waiting-to-go-pro in the national spotlight, there are hundreds of kids toiling in cramped gymnasiums for a different reason.
They play for the fun of it. No network television or Dick Vitale acclamations needed. In the meantime, they learn teamwork, commitment, leadership and responsibility.
It's a vocabulary that seems foreign amid the scandals at St. Bonaventure, Georgia, and Fresno State. The coaches' commitment is to winning because university presidents know successful sports programs bring generous rewards from alumni.
It's not education. It's fundraising.
Leadership and responsibility? Where and from whom? I haven't seen any.
So excuse the following melancholy journey sparked by discovery of a 25-year-old yearbook, but in the days before CBS' exclusive coverage of the Road to the Final Four, college basketball wasn't a reason to bring national humiliation to an institution of higher learning.
It was about pride and camaraderie. It allowed me to become teammates and friends with nearly a dozen strangers, all of us freshmen and sophomores on a podunk junior varsity at a Division II college in Syracuse, N.Y. Some aspired a promotion to the varsity. Others knew it was our last season of competitive basketball.
We only had one scholarship player, a 6-foot, 8-inch center who spent considerable time on the bench. The rest of us were walk-ons, happy for the experience.
There were no Nike swooshes on the jerseys. We didn't even have practice uniforms. Everyone received one pair of high-top Converse sneakers, the universally issued canvas Chuck Taylor models. The shorts were actually short, not the below the knee, baggy apparel that is closer to Capri pants than basketball uniform. The socks were white, not black or invisible.
Our closest brush to graft was when a teammate checked the ledge above another player's locker and discovered several bars of Ivory.
"Looks like Spaulding is cashing in on the free soap," he said.
We once speculated about what could happen during a fracas with another team.
"Who'd come out of the stands? My dad and Artie's dad?" one of the local products surmised.
Yes, if a confrontation happened in the first half, we'd be on our own. The gymnasium was always empty until the crowd filtered in toward the end of the preliminary game.
A financial payoff? Well, the college did disburse meal money over the Christmas holidays because we had to remain on campus while the dining hall was closed.
It was generous. Seven bucks a day. The typical budget meant $2 per meal with enough left over to buy a six-pack every other day.
Those were the days you could purchase alcohol at 18. It was also the days before the three-point line. Dunking had been declared legal only a year earlier. But those times are long past.
Will I flip on the NCAA basketball coverage today? Sure. It will be a welcome diversion from war with Iraq. But I will enjoy it less than I have in the past.
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