Warning: this isn’t specific to VCU basketball, but it relates. Also, I’m not bothering with editing and the like. You will have to deal with poor grammar and incorrect spelling.
Mike Lupica is an idiot. Well that’s harsh and not true. Lupica is a smart guy and a great writer. He just has no business writing about college basketball. None.
This article by Lupica fired me up enough to sit down and write this piece. You see, Lupica is the manifestation of every bracket-filler that shows up this time of year, pretending to have one clue about this beautiful game of college basketball.
It’s clear, and his patronizing tone is galling. It took three paragraphs for Lupica to write:
The romance of the tournament is about all these Cinderella teams. The reality is that while the first weekend, or even the second, can sometimes belong to Cinderella, the tournament ends up belonging to Kansas or Kentucky or Florida or UConn or Carolina. Or Duke.
This just in: fire is hot! God bless a milk cow, it isn’t even about romance. That’s a bullshit media foof trying to sound smart about something he rarely pays any attention to. It’s crap, much like “it’s hard to beat a team three times.”
It isn’t about romance, and it isn’t about the Final Four.
You know what it’s about, Mike? It’s about teams with minuscule budgets bleeding red blood and driving on buses for hours and getting up shots at midnight and fighting for just a small slice of the beauty.
VCU has a graduate senior named Korey Billbury. He toiled at Oral Roberts University, in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and came to VCU wanting to get a head start on graduate school and play in the NCAA tournament.
He wanted to taste winning and the ultimate prize, our tournament.
Billbury has a family and he is trying to provide for them. He is a model student and a significant contributor to a team going to the NCAA tournament as a 10 seed.
VCU is playing in Oklahoma City, one hour from Billbury’s original destination. He will get to taste the NCAA tournament one hour from his stomping grounds, in front of his family, the place he left to get this opportunity.
It’s about Mohammed Alie-Cox, deemed a partial qualifier by the NCAA. Alie-Cox graduated in three and one-half years and is currently in grad school. Alie-Cox is a two-time A10 All-Academic honoree and a third-team All Conference performer on the court.
That’s the beauty, which trumps the reality every time.
We know the reality. Everybody knows the reality. Duke and Kentucky and North Carolina can have the Final Four. And we don’t care. That’s what you cannot get your big noggin around.
If VCU were to make it back, that would be magical, but that’s not what it’s about.
These teams want to win. Badly. That’s why they play.
Later, Lupica says: Again: Butler is what we want the next three weekends to be.
The problem is that he is patently wrong. Every single team in the tournament wants what Butler accomplished, from ACC to AAC to A10 to CAA.
It’s a crap viewpoint.
Gordon Hayward’s shot was unfortunate, no more and no less. Don’t you dare try to put on college basketball fans a holier-than-thou “that’s what we all want.”
You know what we want? Every single game that led to that moment. These kids that work their butts off to get there, like Mo Alie-Cox.
Yeah, it’s Pollyanna, but it’s also the draw.
We want the journey. The beauty resides in the journey, not the destination. The beauty sits squarely into starting your season 5-5, with no good wins, and going 14-4 in your conference. It resides in making your conference finals, and earning a trip to That Hallowed Place.
What we all want is the payoff. We want “our guys” to struggle, to come together as a team, to win games, to lose heartbreakers, to sweat, to work, to feel good, to feel bad, and to see their effort rewarded.
Teams that schedule light, go 9-9 in conference, and get their dance card punched are mailing it in. We hate that. It isn’t what it’s all about.
You want to know what it’s about, Mike Lupica?
It’s about that–you challenge yourself and you survive and succeed and see the fruits of that labor. It’s about an afternoon public shootaround the day before your game in a giant arena, not the Final Four.
The NCAA tournament becomes a television show the longer it goes on. It doesn’t have to do with Gordon Hayward’s near-winner. It’s about embracing those around us who fight with us and claw with us and see just a sliver of victory in those first two weekends.
Pittsburgh and Syracuse and Michigan may win games in the tournament and that’s just fine. I don’t care. Because I know what “my guys” went through to get to where they got, and I appreciate that.
So people like Lupica can continue to try to patronize feelings and accomplishment, without ever knowing what that means in college basketball. I know what the soul of the NCAA tournament is about, what really makes it popular. I like to associate with others who do as well.
They don’t know because their entire framework is based on the Dukes of the world. The problem is not where they ended, but where they began.
I’ll still have the NCAA tournament for what it should be. I’ll love every minute of it, whether I go home Friday, or make plans for Anaheim.
Either could happen.
But I’m after the college basketball world being a better place. That’s why we do it, Mike. That’s what we want it to be.
Don’t leave the smallest part
I’ve no need to live if you’re to come up gone
An as my life turns to a song
And if and when I treat you wrong
No I never want to hurt our family
No this is not just about me
And I don’t know a plainer way to say it Babe
And they may pay us off in fame
Though that is not why we came
And I know well and good that won’t heal our hearts
We came for family
We came for all that’s good that’s how we’ll walk away
We came to break the bad
We came to cheer the sad
We came to leave behind the world a better way