besides the other tournament that i participate in, which i will actually not be going to this year due to plans for missionary work in japan, this is the singular sporting moment that i wait for every single year. the time when 64 (well i suppose 65, but the play-in game is kind of a lame concept), different teams all hope to go on a six game win streak towards the path of basketball glory, honor, enlightenment.
duke, like the yankees, are the team that everyone loves to hate. here are some things i constantly hear from duke haters all around:
1. "they're not athletic."
2. "they play too many white boys." (probably somewhat synonymous with the first)
3. "they live and die by the three."
4. "coach k is annoying."
5. "duke players don't do anything in the NBA."
6. "duke always underperforms in the NCAA tournament."
now there's a lot to address here. but before i do, let's examine college basketball as it exists today.
it's becoming a trend that young people are being scouted as early as possible as potential prospects for professional basketball (that's a lot of p's). more and more, players were skipping college altogether to jump to the NBA. the two best stars today, kobe bryant and lebron james, never went to college, and the rewards for both were astronomical.
and should players be forced to go to college? don't most people go to college to prepare them for a career? a recent collective bargaining agreement forces players to wait a year after high school (essentially to go to college for one year and then leave for the NBA). however, this creates a scenario where the whole idea of college becomes a mockery, with people using the institution as a launchpad for their own professional success.
the trend now is that anyone any type of "potential" is jumping to the NBA, leading into weaker drafts year after year, as anyone with any potential at all leave early. NBA play is leading into uninspired bursts of just raw athleticism, where team play is becoming a concept of "pass the ball to our leading scorer and see him do something awesome". is it a coincidence that at the height (or rather depth?) of this NBA era, that the 2004 olympic team, riddled with talent that never spent a year in college, lost to a decidedly less talented argentinian squad? the NBA has become a collection of players that all believe that they are entitled to more money than they are actually worth (revenue generation wise) and where ego prevents them from playing team oriented basketball.
college basketball to some may just look like a glorified minor league program, where passion is misplaced. the shot clock is 11 seconds longer, there are less highlight-reel worthy dunks, and play can be grossly sloppy. who wants to see a bunch of amateurs horse around AS IF they were playing something that actually had some sort of significance?
yet it is march madness that generates over double the amount of media revenue that NBA playoffs does, and is only second to NFL football in media revenue generated. not to mention the fact that NBA playoffs carry on for MONTHS, whereas march madness occupies 3 short weekends.
why does college basketball generate so much more interest during the playoffs? i'll offer some theories as to that:
- storylines. the one and done format of the tournament allows for a cinderella storyline for underdogs to revel in. who can forget stephen curry of davidson, or george mason's magical run to the in 2006?
- players. with the exception of transfer students, players play for one specific team until their collegiate career is over. the loyalty that fans give to the players is therefore well placed, fans don't have to worry that the players they root for will defect to some free agency or get traded mid season.
- team chemistry. good college teams are actually teams with good chemistry as well. this is probably instilled by spending a lot of time with the other players outside of basketball related activities.
- parity. there are probably 8 teams that have a decent shot at winning the whole tournament, and probably 16 teams that have a decent shot at making the final four, which is an accomplishment in itself. with the various combinations and fluctuations that can happen in the blink of an eye, no one knows how the tournament will turn out, brackets get busted, dreams are shattered, hearts become attacked, etc. the whole ANYTHING can happen aspect of the tournament makes it so ridiculously fun and addicting to watch (and bet on, if you're a degenerate).
- intensity. most players on a college squad WANT to play. they want minutes. role players, because they don't have the prospect of going to the NBA after college, want to play hard, they dive for every ball, they make the most out of every possession, because they actually care about winning more about their own individual stats. playing for a pride is much more motivating than playing for a paycheck, especially if that paycheck is guaranteed whether you play hard or not.
so what IS a good college basketball program? one with a whole bunch of NBA talent on it, which sometimes get taken to the wire by much lesser teams simply because they refuse to play team basketball? i suppose it is exciting to have a coach that can get players like tyreke evans or derrick rose even if it means flubbing up some SAT scores or hiring a former strength trainer as an assistant coach. i call that team, NBA D-League-Kentucky.
so why do so many people hate a program coached by a man who took those same players from the losing 2004 olympic squad to victory 4 years later in beijing? a program marked by high graduation rates, known for playing team basketball, and hard work? a program with a rival just entrenched 8 miles away, combine for 6 national titles in the past 20 years? a program which doesn't have that much NBA talent on it, but seems to win a lot of games anyway?
that's duke, baby.
i'm sure there are plenty of things that have slipped my mind in this entry, so feel free to comment and discuss.