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by Jeff Wilkin

Type A To Z

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The Basketball Diaries

At one time, guys had only to watch the World Series and Super Bowl to pay their annual union dues. We all must renew our memberships in the World of Men — sports and beer are the general bonding requirements.

In recent years, the NCAA College Basketball Tournament — March Madness — has become another meeting item for the agenda. I was at one basketball viewing party last Thursday, will attend another tonight and soon make reservations for sofa position at my friend Teddy’s house for the championship game on April 7.

A few things have stayed with me after watching Syracuse and Manhattan lose, and Florida and Tennessee win. Too bad about Syracuse, by the way. Here they are:

* Truly a shame college basketball has become such big business. Head coaching jobs pay six figures these days, and every coach has three or four assistants on the bench. Everyone’s wearing a suit, nobody wants to lose that job.

That’s why it seems like they’re all taking drama classes. I’ve never seen such looks of anguish, agony, persecution, outrage and oppression when fouls go against their teams. My favorites are when an entire coaching staff jumps up in anger, when a star guard takes five steps without dribbling (happens all the damn time) or a power forward mangles some hapless Badger or Bonnie. They’re like Greek choruses in school colors.

Actually, North Carolina coach Roy Williams kept his cool last weekend. The Tar Heels were playing the Iowa State Cyclones, and the Iowans came up with a terrific, tie-breaking play with 1.6 seconds left. North Carolina inbounded the ball, Natt Britt raced to half-court to call a time out, and there was then supposedly 0.3 seconds left on the clock. There was actually less time left ... there was actually no time left. The game clock had not started with the play, and I had been kind of wondering how a guy could get to half court in 1.3 seconds. Certainly a Tar Heel could have never managed such a feat ... although it might have been possible for a Cyclone.

Anyway, the refs huddled, the coaches huddled, and Roy got the bad news. Time had expired, North Carolina would not receive a last-chance heave at the basket, the game was over. Roy shook hands with Cyclones’ head coach Fred Hoiberg, and quietly led his team off the floor.

I expect some coaches — like Syracuse’s Jimmy Boeheim — would have given a hysterical performance worthy of King Lear. But Roy knew his time was up.

* Speaking of Syracuse, I have to explain this every spring. Yes, I live in upstate New York. Yes, I know Syracuse is our regional college basketball power. And yes, I root against the Orangemen every time — even during exhibition games.

The reason — as I have stated in this space before, I graduated from noble St. Bonaventure University in 1977. Back then, there were two regional powers in New York — the Bonnies and Syracuse. And we were actually pretty evenly matched in those days, although recent fortune has not smiled often on the true princes of upstate collegiate hoops.

Everyone at SBU rooted against Syracuse. I think most of us still do, although some Bonnies have taken pity on the SU football program and will offer them the occasional “Go ‘Cuse!”

Not me, though.

* The latest annoying trend in college basketball is front and center with the tournament. Coaches call time out, and instead of players just piling into seats on the bench for exclamations and explanations, coach lackeys cart these tiny, collapsible chairs right out on the court. I don’t know why these coaching instructions must be given on the hardwood floor. If I was running the gym, I’d day, “Hey man, those chairs better have rubber tips on the legs. I don’t want you guys scratching up my floor.”

The players can’t run an extra two seconds to reach the bench? I don’t know if the coaches are trying to make a point, or these little sessions look more focused if they’re right on the floor. I think it’s stupid.

But it’s like anything else. Once one team starts doing it, every team starts doing it.

* I’m used to hearing college pep bands covering Ozzy Osbourne and Black Sabbath. “Crazy Train” and “Iron Man” have been dusted off and brassed up for university trumpets and trombones. This year, I’ve been hearing Led Zeppelin. Bands are playing “The Immigrant Song” and “Whole Lotta Love,” which were both popular Led Zep tunes during the early 1970s. I was still in high school.

I’ll bet current students are nudging each other and saying, “What the hell are they playing down there?”

It’s kind of a weird trend. Audi has just started a new ad campaign that uses Queen’s 1977 “We Are the Champions” in a clever montage. And Taco Bell has resurrected the Starland Vocal Band’s “Afternoon Delight,” from 1976, for its latest persuasions.

So much for trying to reach younger audiences. I guess Audi and Taco Bell figure we baby boomers have all the money.

* At least with Stanford still alive in the tournament, there’s a chance to see the Stanford “Evergreen” mascot running around.

Stanford is full of bright and brainy people, but the mascot — a giant tree — regularly makes Internet “10 Worst College Mascot” lists. I saw a version of the tree when Stanford was in the NCAA tournament in Albany a bunch of years ago, and this version included a huge, stupid grin and bulging eyes.

It looked like a Christmas tree on steroids and Schlitz. And I think the tree got into a fight with another mascot that year.

Hope the new growth on display this weekend decides to keep its branches to itself — I hear those Florida Gators will eat anything.

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