In my senior year of college at Indiana University, I took an art appreciation course as a Gen Ed requirement. I had taken almost all of these damned 100-level classes, you see, but was loathe to suffer through one that I had no particular interest in.
Procrastination at its finest.
So, surrounded by snot-nosed freshman in Room 100 of Woodburn Hall, the professor announced that our first assignment would be a short essay on our favorite form of the subject matter we would be discussing. We would turn the paper in by the end of class. My artistic sensibilities are few today, much less in college when the only thing I, through a drunken stupor, considered to be a masterpiece was a visiting parent’s buffet-style spread at a home football tailgate.
Bless you, parents. Your charitable works are not forgotten.
With only 45 minutes remaining in the period, I had to scramble for a rare moment of introspection; a deep dive into the soul of Buck Reising that would elicit a thoughtful response, or at least fake something good enough to pass as one. As if someone whose college nickname was “Buck” could even attempt such a feat.
And then, an an answer from above. An ESPN notification flashed across my with a highlight from that afternoon’s NBA match-up between the Brooklyn Nets and the visiting Golden State Warriors. The video was of guard Steph Curry, putting two Brooklyn defenders on the floor with a series of nasty between-the-legs crossovers followed by a dagger from just past 23 feet.
“There are few things in this world I despise more than the winter months,” I wrote. “Anything below 60 degrees makes me uncomfortable, Daylight Savings in the Central Time Zone means a 4:30 p.m. sunset and overplayed Christmas music compels me to take a blowtorch to the nearest snowman. The one saving grace of below-freezing temperatures and seemingly-eternal darkness: basketball.”
Today’s game is reminiscent of a trip to the ballet. Physical and athletic prowess combined with drama, grace, beauty and superhuman footwork entrances the audience in the same way Act II of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake might. Basketball is my first love; it is a sport that lacks complexity and doubles as fast-paced theater.
I received an 80% on my essay, in case you were wondering.
By now, my basketball bias is showing. “In 49 other states, it’s just basketball,” is a saying in Indiana that makes an appearance regularly; a place where Robert Montgomery Knight, Larry Joe Bird, Reggie Miller, Brad Stevens, Norman Dale and Jimmy Chitwood are hugely revered. No one knows what the hell a Hoosier is, but it is the identity of a state that has little else to claim.
But the basketball lethargy I have observed since coming to Music City totally perplexes me.
I understood when I came to Nashville that this is SEC country and nothing will ever supplant football. And, yes, SEC basketball is down since Billy Donovan jumped for the pros and Bruce Pearl got in trouble with NCAA. But, Rick Barnes has a young, athletic team at UT in rebuild mode and Bryce Drew is doing the same on West End with Vandy in an attempt to free the Commodores from their recent stagnation (they broke a program record Tuesday, making 19 3-pointers). Not to mention conference foes Frank Martin (No. 19) and Mike White (No. 21) have their teams in the Top 25.
Oh, and then there’s No. 6 Kentucky.
Last night, I experienced the inexplicably unknown Blue Raiders of MTSU (9-1) snap a 21-year drought at the Murphy Center in a 71-48 smack-down of their Vanderbilt men’s team (5-5) counterparts. Kermit Davis’s team featuring guard Giddy Potts and Reggie Upshaw bullied Drew’s Commodores with defense and dunks to conquer their third-straight SEC opponent. This same program from Murfreesboro fielded last year’s 16th-seeded NCAA Tournament team and pulled off arguably one of the biggest upsets in college basketball history knocking off Tom Izzo’s 2nd-seeded Spartans 90-81.
I’m telling you ppl need to watch out for this Kermit Davis lead MTSU basketball team. They have everything you need to make a deep run.
— Derrick Mason (@deemason85) December 9, 2016
Marc Gasol, who may or may not be an actual grizzly bear, was 13 of 24 from the field and 4 of 6 from 3-point range in Memphis’s 88-86 win over Portland. Again, a 7’1 grizzly bear shot 66% from deep on the fifth-best team in a stacked NBA Western Conference.
Why the hell is no one else excited by this?
To the casual sports fan, the NBA regular season is not must-see TV on a night to night basis. An 82-game season provides no particular sense of urgency and, unless you have a competitive team locally, why bother? In terms of SEC hoops, the conference has only received three NCAA bids in three of the past four years compared to the other Power 5 leagues, who each had seven bids last year. But, for the amount of pride this part of the country takes in its athletic achievements, you would think Tennesseans would show a little more enthusiasm for their basketball teams.
The passion is there. I saw it in June with the passing of the legendary coach Pat Summitt. The raw emotion of thousands of Lady Vols fans poured out in one of the most touching moments I have witnessed in my lifetime. It was genuine and fierce, as if the spirit of Summitt herself spread into the hearts of those who had followed her. That feeling that I saw Tennesseans emoting, unconsciously or otherwise, was so familiar to me.
I have known that feeling all my life.
This rant could be all for naught. It could be that I am simply suffering from withdrawals, seeing as most Hoosier high school games have more energy than Memorial Gym on any given night. It could be that I am projecting something nonexistent.
Maybe, it is truly just basketball in 49 other states.