Saturday, November 25, 2006

Sagebrush looks the same in Utah as it does in Wyoming

"In this one glorious night, I lifted right out of myself and turned into the kind of basketball player who could change the way a town felt about itself." Pat Conroy on his 36 point performance for Beaufort, South Carolina high school against Chicora, South Carolina high school in 1963.

Jaycee Carroll is that kind of player. Over the past two years he has brought the same feeling he gave to his hometown of Evanston, Wyoming to Logan, Utah and the Dee Glenn Spectrum. Each of the last two years Utah State has made the NCAA tournament. (That brings their total number of appearances to 19. It's exactly 19 more than William and Mary has made). They play Weber State on November 25th.

The Spectrum is small compared to most basketball arenas. It has a great "midmajor feel" to it though as the students sit right on the court. It is two thirds full for this state rivalry but the Utah State students are easily the best basketball fans of all the schools in Utah. They are knowledgeable, come up with clever chants and make an impact on the game.

Carroll scores a quiet 12 points in the first half and the Aggies trail by 2 points at the half.

At half time the famous Aggie fight song gets played. It includes the great line, "A Utah Aggie knows the spot where the sagebrush grows."

Carroll comes out firing in the second half and scores a quick nine points to put the Aggies in the lead by 8 points. He drives hard toward the basket midway through the second half and is undercut as he makes a layup. For a moment the crowd is silent. Then Carroll stumbles up. The crowd cheers wildly seeing their hero back on his feet, but he is still limping. He misses the ensuing free throw and it is obvious that he is not quite at full strength. Coach Stew Morrill takes Carroll out for a significant stretch and this allows Weber State to get back into the game. With six minutes left Carroll reenters the game. The crowd starts its, "Jay-cee Car-roll, Jay-cee Caroll clap, clap" chant. With a minute to go Carroll responds by hiting a three point basket - that puts the Aggies up by 8 points and seals the victory.

On this night the only difference between Weber State and Utah State is Jaycee Carroll, he scores 26 points while making 9 of 14 shots.

On the way back - two Wyoming 19 plates pass me by. That's Jaycee Carroll's home! It has lots of sagebrush and he's changing the way Evanston and Logan look at themselves with his play - the same way Pat Conroy did some 43 years ago.

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