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Hoopaholic’s Gazette: Reconcilation amidst the Zaniness

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I’ve always been a firm believer that talented people should be respected for their achievements.

I’ve also felt adamantly that being a good, decent, respectful human being is more important than accomplishments.

Which is why I’ve never had much good to say about Bobby Knight, even given the obvious reality that he is one of the great college basketball coaches of forever. Despite that begrudging recognition, it’s always been difficult for me to deal with the guy, whom I’ve dissed often at various venues through the decades.

But, as I slip precipitously and more firmly into my dotage, I am also a staunch believer in the power and necessity of reconciliation.

So, I was seriously and deeply touched, watching his halftime return to IU’s Assembly Hall Saturday for the first time since he was fired, surrounded by a phalanx of his former players. I was in the Media Room at the Yum! before the U of L game, and can say that all other conversations stopped, and all eyes were focused on the televised proceedings with Knight.

It was sweet. It was healing. I am grateful I experienced the moment.

On this Monday, there’s an interview at theathletic.com with Knight’s son, Pat, about how the return came about.

Accompanying the interview is a picture of Bobby Knight and former Purdue coach and IU archenemy Gene Keady, sitting together Saturday night in a box in Indy, watching the Pacers play. Keady had also attended the proceedings in Bloomington earlier in the day.

I was even more verklempt seeing that photo of Knight sitting with a fellow he used to blister with verbal venom, sharing their commonality and respect for each other after years of fierce and controversial combats.

I immediately thought of Denny Crum and Joe B. Hall, and the friendship that has developed between them after their bitter coaching years at U of L and UK.

And I’m reminded yet again, especially now as I’m rounding the stretch, heading for the finish line, that life’s too damn short for lingering resentments.

* * * * *

OK, some actual hoops.

A bit ago in a U of L game recap, I mentioned a notion I’ve always had as the college hoops season arrives at February. Which is that legitimate national title contenders shouldn’t lose at home after the turn of the shortest month of the year.

I gave mind service to actually investigating my premise. You know, with actual research. But — transparency — I’m just too damn lazy.

The one team that immediately came to mind was Al McGuire’s ‘77 Marquette title team. I’d remembered that they lost their last regular season tilt, but a modicum of research revealed that was on the road at Michigan. Turns out however, they lost three in a row at home in mid February. To DePaul, Detroit and Wichita State.

So, just that shoots holes in my hypothesis. I’m sure there are oh so many other examples that would blow my theory to smithereens.

So, maybe, I’ll be wise enough to move on to some other espoused absolute. We’ll see.

That said, I was still cognizant of my beliefs when two the squads I’ve been heralding — Seton Hall and Villanova — both lost Saturday afternoon before last. The Pirates to Xavier. The Wildcats to Creighton. Then, Illinois, my new favorite sleeper, fell in Champagne-Urbana to surging Maryland.

You’d think we hoopaholics would finally understand that this particular cockamamie hoops season is incomprehensible. That we should stop trying to figure matters out in advance of our office NCAA bracket pool, and simply enjoy the games.

Like Auburn’s comeback against LSU. Or, hate ‘em as we feel we must, Duke’s incredible resilience and comeback in Chapel Hill.

As for who is going to win it all, really, why would I even posit such a rhetorical question?

I. Haven’t. A. Clue. Neither do you, my fellow obsessives.

* * * * *

What I do know is my hoopaholism hasn’t abated an iota.

Which I realized as I spent last Friday evening, when most reasonably adjusted adults were out with friends for dinner, or at a movie or concert, and I was watching Niagara, coached by former Louisville assistant Greg Paulus, battle Manhattan, coached by former Louisville assistant Steve Masiello. The latter still preening along the sidelines like a banty rooster after all these years.

”You need to get a life,” I chastised myself.

Then, a bit later, watched the rounding into contendership Terrapins take down the Fighting Illini.

Does Maryland pivot Jalen Smith, with those goggles, favor David Ruffin of the Temptations, or what? He can also really ball.

* * * * *

I’ll get outta here with another confirmation that Gus Johnson remains The Great Voice of College Hoops.

Three exclamations from Johnson during Butler’s last second W at Villanova on a Kamar Baldwin trey at the buzzer:

As the teams were fighting it out down the stretch, one baller made a great individual play to score. Johnson yelled, “C’est Moi!!!!!,” as the camera trained on the kid, scurrying back on D with a self satisfied expression on his face.

As the schools kept trading punches, Johnson got ever more excited and bellowed to partner Bill Raferty, “It’s basketball season, coach!!!!!.”

After Baldwin’s game winner trickled through the net, Johnson hesitated for a couple of beats, then intoned, “The Butler did it.”

— c d kaplan