Sunday, March 23, 2008


In the period of basketball history of which I write, Davidson represented the big time in the Southern Conference because the wily, fast talking Lefty Driesell had transformed the small Protestant college into a national power. I never took the court against them without thinking the the eye of sports loving America had turned its curious gaze on me. When Mel delivered his pregame speech as the crowd began to hum in the field house, he tried to instill fear in us, implying always that he doubted whether we possessed either the talent or the will to be on the same court with the Wildcats. He could give us a thousand reasons why we could not beat Davidson and never came up with a single one that suggested we could.

Pat Conroy on The Citadel's first matchup against Davidson during his senior year.

I wanted to beat Davidson so badly I could taste it, vinegary and sharp in the back of my throat. They had ruled the Southern Conference and been ranked in the top ten teams in the country since my freshman year.

I dribbled past Davidson caoch, Lefty Driesell, I hear him . . .

"Hey, Pat. Why did Mel bury you alive the last couple of years? Mel even told me you couldn't score for shit. I'd've played you up here, boy. Guarantee that.

I put the next layup in and as I rose to shoot that basketball off the board I rose up as the happiest boy in North Carolina because the great Lefty Driesell had proven to me that he actually knew my name. . . I basked in the glory of it.

Pat Conroy on his second matchup with the Wildcats.

Much will be written about Davidson this week. The fact that their enrollment is only 1678. The fact that out of the 339 schools that play division I basketball their enrollment places them 335th. The fact that they now own the nation's longest winning streak at 24 consecutive games. No one will probably note that during Conroy's senior season the Wildcats beat the Citadel both times, the second time by a final score of 97-85. Most articles will probably note that Lefty Driesell turned Davidson into a national power during the late 1960's. In 1968 and 1969, Davidson reached the regional final -- losing to North Carolina both times. In 1969 the Wildcats finished the season ranked #3 in the country according to the UPI their record during what would be Driesell's final season was 27-3

Driesell left the next season to take over Maryland's program in the ACC. Driesell was 176-65 as the coach at Davidson. The program has had solid season since Driesell left, but nothing compared to what has happened this year. They are this season's cinderella -- America's team.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Battle for Hutch

My heart went into my throat as Whittenburg barely controlled, searched for the basket and the clock at the same time and hurled up his final 30 footer. The amazing irony was that Charles, on the opposite side of the basket, saw the ball falling short, and Olajuwon, in textbook rebounding position facing the basket, did not. Akeem never even jumped. Lorenzo did, grabbed the ball with both hands and smashed it home. North Carolina State had won the national championship!

And there I was searching for someone to hug. I had told Lo in the huddle to make believe anything near the rim was a hubcap, but this was ridiculous. People were running every which way, everybody was hugging everybody, I knew the TV cameras were on me, and yet I couldn't find one person to hug! Where was I running? I was running around looking for Dereck because I had dreamed of this moment all my life and I knew I was only the 28th coach in history to win the NCAA title and that sixty million people were watching and I had been hugging Whitt after all our games because he was my designated hugger and I thought I'd be making history myself here.

Every weekend of my life I had tuned in "wide World of Sports" and heard about the Thrill of Victory and the Agony of Defeat and watched that skier come down the mountain -- boom, schuss, boom, splat -- while somewhere in France, some poor woman is going, "Look Pierre, here comes ton pere!" I felt as if all they had ever had to show on "Wide World" was the agony of Defeat, and now I, Jim Valvano, would be the Thrill of Victory. I imagined that the cameras would be zeroing in on me running slo-mo and the crowd would be roaring aaahhhh and I would be running and Whitt would be running and "Chariots of Fire" would be playing in the background and it was going to be History! Me! Whitt! Together! Hug! Chariots of Fire! And I would be on TV forever.

Then I got out in the middle of nowhere, and there's Whitt... hugging somebody else!

So I ran left, looking for somebody else to hug. Everybody was hugging somebody else. I ran right, looking. Everybody was hugging. There was nobody left to hug! I had just won it all: history, 28th coach, sixty million watching -- and I had nobody to hug! Where was I running? I finally found my athletic director, Willis Casey, my boss, a bit old and out of shape but a very nice man. He gave me my break. He grabbed me. He hugged me Wonderful! Great! Finally, a hug!...

I had just won the national championship, 28th all-time to do it . . . sixty million have watched me running around like a maniac. . .

Jim Valvano's description of his thoughts and the precious moments after North Carolina State captured the national championship in They Gave Me a Lifetime Contract, and Then They Declared Me Dead.

While Jim Valvano lived his dream, there are hundreds if not thousands of coaches and athletes who have fallen short. The nature of March Madness is that every game has a loser and there is only one national champion.

I have known the assistant coach of the Southern Idaho Golden Eagles, Steve Gosar, for 32 of his 38 years on this planet. We grew up together. At one point, as junior high students, although he will deny it, I could beat him in a game of one on one. We went to high school and even college together. We spent much of our twenties in bars in Laramie, Wyoming where he worked as an assistant director of the Cowboy Joe Club. When offered the director position he turned it down to become a graduate assistant basketball coach at the University of Wyoming. It was a decision only those people who are crazy enough to chase a dream would make. He is still chasing this dream. He now has a wife and a son. He has a family to provide for, but he is still chasing his dream.

Southern Idaho enters their region 18 title game against Salt Lake Community College with a record of 29-1 they are ranked as the third best junior college basketball team in America. Salt Lake enters the game with a record of 27-3 they are ranked as the fourth best junior college basketball team in America. The two teams have met three times this year with CSI winning two and SLCC winning one.

Prior to the game the public address announcer proclaims, "The winner of this championship game has a legitimate chance at the junior college national championship!" The NJCAA playoffs take place in Hutchinson, Kansas. These two Scenic West rivals are battling for the chance to ride in a bus across three states to play in Hutch. It is all part of the dream!

Salt Lake has two of the best junior college guards in the country. Prior to the game I sit with Steve and he believes that they cannot let Scenic West Conference player of the year Durrell Jackson control the game from his point guard position.

CSI's gym is packed for the region 18 championship and I sit up high. Jackson and SLCC guard Brian Green, from Fruit Heights, Utah control the first half they take a seven point halftime lead. In the second half, CSI makes a run and actually takes a one point lead with slightly over ten minutes to play. The final ten minutes of play are as agonizing as any ten minutes of basketball I have ever watched. Green hits three three pointers, a couple of key free throws, and a couple of tough running layups and with only a little over two minutes remaining the Bruins have built a 10 point lead. It almost seems hopeless, but CSI makes one final run, a late charge call goes their way and with six seconds left they trail by only a point and have the ball.

After the game, Steve tells me that their hope was to get the ball to point guard Reggie Guyton and have Guyton drive to the basket either hit a runner, draw a foul or have one of their "Bigs" follow up a miss just before the buzzer. Nick Hansen, the only player that receives significant minutes on the CSI roster from Idaho, a player that Steve says "lives and breathes" the program is set to inbounds the ball at midcourt. The Pocatello native throws the ball too hard and it goes out of bounds on the opposite sideline.

Apparently it is possible to go 29-2 and have a losing season, because the atmosphere in the fieldhouse is dead. The expectations of the Twin Falls community, the team and the coaches have not been met, it feels like a lost season. After the game the head coach of the Eagles Barrett Peery musters up enough gumption to accept the runner up trophy. While the Bruins celebrate, the Eagles sit on their bench with hands wrapped around their downtrodden heads, some use towels to cover up their tears, some have disappeared, some stare blankly at the floor. It is the agony of defeat that Valvano speaks of above.

The assistant coach of the Eagles, Steve Gosar, has turned down higher paying opportunities with multiple organizations to chase his love of coaching, but at this moment I am certain he regrets it all. It can't seem worth it. CSI's entire season and his career in coaching had come down to this game, this moment. It isn't often that a team knows they have a chance to win it all. The hope for any junior college program is that they can get to Hutch. In Hutch dreams come true. Junior college players and coaches land opportunities at the division I level. Present USC assistant coach Gib Arnold is a former CSI head coach. These are the type of opportunities that can happen only at Hutch. There will be no trip to Hutch this year for Steve or the College of Southern Idaho.

Winning shapes the soul of bad movies and novels and lives. It is the subject of thousands of insufferably bad books and is often a sworn enemy of art.

Loss is a fiercer, more uncompromising teacher, cold hearted but clear-eyed in it's understanding that life is more dilemma than game, and more trial than free pass. Pat Conroy author My Losing Season.

I know Steve, I feel for Steve - more than I ever felt good for Jim Valvano.

Friday, March 7, 2008

It Ends For Everybody

It ends for everybody. It ends for the pro who makes ten million dollars a year. It ends for the high school kid who never comes off the bench. For me, it ended on December 22, 1979, at the Tangerine Bowl in Orlando, Florida. Former LSU all SEC football center and author of "It Never Rains In Tiger Stadium" John Ed Bradley.

For Jaycee Carroll, it will likely end within a couple of weeks. Utah State has chance to win the WAC title at Idaho on Saturday night, then it will be on to the WAC tournament in Las Cruces, New Mexico. If things go well Carroll could end up playing in the NCAA tournament, but more likely the NIT tournament. Carroll will likely finish as the second leading all time scorer in the history of Utah college basketball. This after an illustrious high school career at Evanston High School in Evanston, Wyoming. Is there a place for Carroll in the NBA? Maybe. But it could simply be over, former BYU star and #3 leading scorer in Utah college basketball history Devin Durrant never found a place in the NBA.

This year Carroll will likely finish as the only player in the country to shoot over 50% on three point field goal attempts, over 90% on free throw attempts and over 50% on all field goal attempts. Certainly, other great college players never find a place in the NBA. Names like Bo Kimble of Loyola Marymount, Freeman Williams of Portland State, Kevin Houston of Army, Joe Jakubiak of Akron, and Alfredrick Hughes of Loyola of Illinois -- all tremendous college basketball players each of whom led the nation in scoring, but never found places in the NBA.

I gave it up, gave basketball up, gave my game up, the one I played so badly and adored so completely. I gave it up in Charlotte, in emptiness, in sorrow, in despair that I played it so badly yet in gratitude for what the game had given me...Basketball had rescued me from the malignant bafflement of my boyhood. It had lifted me up and given me friends that I got to call teammates. [Basketball] gave me moments where I brought crowds of strangers to their feet, calling out my name. The game had allowed me to be carried off the court in triumph...I gave it up. I left my game in Charlotte forever. Conroy's thoughts in the locker room following his teams' loss in the Southern Conference tournament in Charlotte, North Carolina.

It's likely Jaycee Carroll won't be carried off the court the way he was when he set the Utah State scoring record ever again, just as Conroy was once carried off the court. Carroll likely will never again bring crowds of strangers to their feet calling out his own name as he has over the last four years at the Spectrum in Logan, Utah.

It ends for everybody. It ends for the pro who makes ten million dollars a year. It ends for the high school kid who never comes off the bench.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Home Court Win Streaks

Utah's basketball has some of the best home courts in the country. This year both Utah State and BYU have gone undefeated at home. The Aggies are 16-0 at home their last home loss was against Fresno State in their final regular season game one year ago. Coincidentally, they are hosting Fresno State in their final regular season game once again this year.

BYU has now won 45 straight home games. One year ago, BYU played at Air Force which at the time had won 30 straight home games. The two schools will meet on Saturday night in Provo.

The longest home court winning streaks are:

Kentucky, 129 from 1943 to 1955 ended by a loss to Georgia Tech 59-58
St. Bonaventure, 99 from 1948 to 1961 ended by a loss to Niagara 87-77
UCLA, 98 from 1970-1976 ended by a loss to Oregon 65-45
Cincinnati 86 from 1957-1964 ended by a loss to Bradley 87-77
Arizona 81 from 1945-1951 ended by a loss to Kansas State 76-57
Marquette 81 from 1967-1973 ended by a loss to Notre Dame 71-69
Lamar 80 from 1978-1984 ended by a loss to Louisiana Tech 68-65
Long Beach State 75 from 1968-1974 ended by a loss to San Francisco 94-84
UNLV 72 from 1974-1978 ended by a loss to New Mexico 102-98
Arizona 71 from 1987-1992 ended by a loss to UCLA 89-87
Cincinnati 68 from 1972-1978 ended by a loss to Georgia Tech 59-56

Some of college basketball's most memorable games are the streak stoppers. I did attend the 1992 Arizona loss to UCLA. Arizona does allow scalping and at the time, tickets went for over $100.00 a seat for any place in the building. A national television audience watched the game on ABC as Dick Vitale was present. Don McLean led the Bruins past the Wildcats. Eventually, BYU's current streak will end, each added game brings a premium to the next game and tickets come harder and harder to come by. The loss likely won't happen this year as only Air Force and Wyoming remain on the Cougars home schedule.