Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Raiders and Lancers and Badgers, Oh My!

People always talk about how great players play hurt. Well, last night I decided I needed to step my game up a notch. With a bad back that has made bending down to tie my shoes in the morning a monumental task (hey, I’m almost 30, so I’m sure things are heading downhill), there was a big part of me that wasn’t real excited to attack my arch nemesis–high school bleachers. But seeing as I’ve been to exactly one other game in a high school gym (if you can call Sheboygan South’s new palace of a fieldhouse a mere “gym”), I thought it was time to get out and see a game. Lucky for me, Greater Metro rivals Brookfield Central and Wauwatosa East were playing a key game to determine who will take this year’s conference crown. And Brookfield Central came out on top in a thriller. Thoughts below:

1) Even as I sat during the remnants of the JV game that preceded the main event, I was reminded of one of the strangely entertaining things that I’ve missed out on by not attending many high school games this year: overly angry parents and other adults yelling at referees. It amuses me to no end to see some guy who probably holds down a nice office job and has dinner each night with his family screaming at referees and accusing them of being paid off. And the best thing is, it usually has nothing to do with the quality of the refs–someone’s always going to get yelled at. And that friends, is why you could never pay me enough to be a high school basketball referee.

2) Brookfield Central has hands down the best programs that I’ve ever seen at a game. They’re free, but I’d have paid $2 more for one. They look like college programs, and unlike other schools who simply hand out all-sport programs of this high paper quality, this was pure basketball, with facts and figures all over the place. Nice job by whatever booster club or arm of the administration is responsible for the best game freebie that I’ve seen in all my high school travels.

3) Best feature of the programs referenced above? That would have to be the player bios. The Brookfield Central players answered the questions in such a fun, but respectful way, that I found myself liking them so much that I almost found myself rooting for them against my alma mater last night. All players had entertaining responses, but I think my favorite was one player listing under “Favorite Food” that “I will literally eat anything.” Seldom does the use of the word “literally” for effect work so well.

4) I can’t be the only person that noticed the announcer at the scorer’s table was having way too much fun saying the name “Cupertino” whenever he got the chance. And with two Tosa East starters sharing that surname, he got a lot of chances.

5) I had gotten the chance to see Central’s Cory Degner once before, and last night reinforced for me how impressed I was with him last year. He’s not at all the guy you’d expect to be one of the best players on the floor, as his small stature and wiry build imply that he’s more likely a champion low weight class wrestler than a star basketball player. But he does all the little things right, and can knock down a shot, to boot. He may have missed his chance to ice the game with foul shots with 20 seconds left, but I guarantee you Degner was the last guy Tosa East wanted to put on the line. I don’t know anyone who wouldn’t be happy to have him on their team.

6) There were a handful of scoreboard outages that stopped play in the second half last night, and you had to admire the cheerleader who kept doing back flips down the length of the court during the unplanned time outs. You could almost see the thought process in her head: “Hey, you guys go ahead and get the board fixed–I’ll keep the crowd entertained while you work on it. Don’t worry–I’ve got this taken care of.” That young woman put forth an effort on par with anyone on the floor last night, since the scoreboard went down about three times.

7) A tight, well-played game on both ends, I think this one just came down to shooting. Tosa East missed shot after shot from on the blocks, staying in the game only by connecting on a great percentage of three-pointers. Meanwhile, Brookfield Central showed an uncanny knack for knocking down mid-range jumpers. And despite being the underdog, it didn’t seem like one of those nights when Central shot over their heads–I got the sense that they’re really that accurate most of the time.

8) Of the aforementioned missed shots down low, Tosa East’s Eric Williams was probably responsible for the greatest number, but also appeared to be the Red Raider with the greatest potential on his team. He’s not the best player on the team yet, but he’s a very good athlete who knows how to use his body inside, and can take it outside and shoot it a bit (as evidenced by his hot hand from long range last night). Only a junior, Williams should be a good one to watch for the next year and a half.

9) Tosa East had one of the longest good defensive stands that I’ve ever seen last night. With the score tied and two minutes to go, the Red Raiders locked down the aggressive Lancer halfcourt offense just upwards of a minute before a Central player finally got a shot off to score what would end up being the winning basket. That was maybe the best minute of basketball that I’ve seen all year–two teams playing all out in crunch time, and no one backing down. It’s why I watch basketball.

10) On a night where it seemed like no one in the gym liked the referees much (notice I’m not saying anything–as I noted earlier, you couldn’t pay me enough to be a ref), the game ended as Tosa East attempted to call time out off an offensive rebound just before the buzzer. It appeared that the time out was recognized with just under one second to go, but then the refs promptly signaled that the game was over. Probably academic, since I’ve not seen too many games won on shots with .8 left (and I certainly wouldn’t want to be the time-keeper in a high school gym for that situation), but it still didn’t exactly make Tosa East happy. A potentially explosive situation was avoided as one of Tosa East’s coaches pulled away a player who was closely following the refs on their walk to the locker room and angrily giving them an earful. Appropriately, that player got an earful of his own when his coaches got hold of him.

And with a slim, hard-fought two point victory in hand, Brookfield Central made up a key game in the Greater Metro conference race. And with a good chance that the conference title will come down to the next game between these two rivals, it should be a packed gym at Tosa East the next time they meet.

Post game, of course, I went home to check out the DVR’d Badger game that I had. With the blowout that it was, I question my move of not continuing on with friends to catch the game at a tavern, but at least I got to relax for awhile. Quick thoughts (abbreviated due to my lack of writing time, and the lack of attention paid to the game after the Badgers got up big and I started writing about the high school game above) on that below:

1) You know how I talked about how much this game scared me yesterday? Yeah, I’m allowed to be wrong from time to time.

2) You never want to see a guy go down with an injury, but Penn State’s Geary Claxton is near the top of the list of guys that you really don’t want to see hurt themselves like he did last night. He’s one of the best players in the conference, a senior, playing on a team that was likely to have some minor success after being among the conference doormats for some time, and seems to have a decent shot at playing pro ball somewhere. You’d have to assume he’s done for the year, and if so, that’s an awful shame, because he loses about as much as anyone can from a season-ending injury. Here’s hoping for a speedy recovery.

3) Can we get a clarification on Kevin Gullikson already? I know it’s a minor offense, but three underage drinking tickets definitely merits some type of action from the athletic department. I don’t know enough about the situation to know if the answer is a disciplinary suspension or a some sort of leave of absence to deal with issues that he may or may not have, but it seems ridiculous to me that anyone with a clear pattern of inappropriate incidents sits on the bench like nothing happened. Gullikson may be a great guy (hey, I’ve done some minor things wrong in my day, too), but he needs to wise up and stop getting himself into situations where he ends up in this type of trouble.

4) The thing that was so annoying about Brian Butch’s air-ball free throw was that it was probably further away from hitting iron than any mis-shot foul shot that I’ve ever seen. Ughh.

5) Loved that the Big Ten Network cameras briefly picked up the faint sound early in the game of a Penn State fan taunting Bo Ryan by yelling “Soulja Boy!” at him. That video will never die.

Not sure what my next game will be, with a packed schedule of non-basketball things for the next few days, but you’ll know when I see a game. In the meantime, last night should give me enough joy to keep going for awhile...


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