Tuesday, March 11, 2008

State Tourney Wrap-Up

Well, it finally happened. Nineteen years after I went to the Fieldhouse to see Wauwatosa East win a state championship in the first ever state tournament game that I attended, the Red Raiders again hold the crown. I spent the weekend shuttling back and forth between Milwaukee and Madison, and enjoying games with various friends. My Wauwatosa-centric thoughts on the championship game, and the tournament itself below:

1) After parking my car on my first trip to the tourney, I began my walk to the Kohl Center. About 30 feet into my walk, I saw a store located next to the parking garage which specialized in selling Magic: The Gathering cards and comic books. I looked inside and saw 5-6 guys playing some sort of card game that I'm sure I wouldn't understand. "What nerds" I thought. Then I considered the fact that I was in the midst of taking a two and a half hour round trip journey and planning to forsake a couple hours of sleep later that night, just so that I could watch a bunch of high school kids play basketball. So I think I'm pretty clearly unable to look down at people who read comic books.

2) I've long thought that the high school state tournament was better the old UW Fieldhouse, a place that was much more intimate and would fill up completely, giving a special feel to high championship games. But I think I was finally won over by the Kohl Center on Saturday night when they darkened the lights, and played the video highlight reel preceding introductions. Absolutely awesome, and set the stage perfectly for an exciting final. Times have changed since the Fieldhouse days, and I think I finally felt that last night. I've finally truly embraced the charms of the Kohl Center.

3) It required some work to get out of the way, but there are few things that made me more happy this past weekend that watching student sections from winning schools stampede their way down the concourse at the Kohl Center en route to purchasing tickets to the next day's game.

4) Even after their loss on Thursday, the Eau Claire North team stuck around to watch more games over state tournament weekend, and were clearly visible on the concourse in their powder blue sweatshirts. So yes, I did walk by Evan Anderson and his feet are that gloriously big.

5) I listened to lots of the audio of press conferences covered by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel this past weekend, but none more classic than the top one on this page, where Tosa East coach Tim Arndorfer and player Jake Barnett are interviewed following the division one championship game. The legendary portion of the interview is at the end, right at the 10:50 mark, where a reporter asks Barnett about the jump ball in overtime by leading with "Did you think you could out-jump him (Jeronne Maymon)?" You simply have to hear Barnett's tone as he laughs off the absurd idea that he could out-leap the most athletic player in the tournament and replies "No, I know I can't out-jump Jeronne Maymon." The room cracked up as he responded to the question, and so did I.

6) Here's the ridiculous lead for the Journal Sentinel's story about the division one championship game:

Goliath got tired.

And David was ready. Ready for the performance of a lifetime.

The Wauwatosa East Red Raiders shocked a Kohl Center crowd of 14,000-plus, a statewide television audience, their opponents - everyone except themselves - with a stunning showing that approached high school basketball perfection Saturday night.

Really? That's how Art Kabelowsky framed this game? While I recognize that there was a distinct buzz in Madison around Madison Memorial and Jeronne Maymon's breakout performance, Wauwatosa East wasn't exactly the downtrodden underdog that Kabelowsky paints them as. The Red Raiders were ranked third in the state coming into the tournament, had one loss all year (to a state semi-finalist, no less), and got to Madison by winning the state's toughest sectional. Had David had those type of credentials, I suspect he'd have put down his slingshot and given some thought to taking a swing at Goliath. And let's not forget that Oshkosh West's 34-point fourth quarter had showed that Memorial could be hurt. Memorial was undoubtedly favored, and their athleticism probably helped their popularity, but this was way closer to an even matchup going in than this story. It's laughable to frame a meeting between the two favorites of the tournament in this way.

7) Once again, my friend Nick, the guy that I sat next to for virtually every game back when we were in high school, takes a segment of his radio show to talk about our alma mater’s big win. Former athletic director (and Nick's dad) Joe Vitrano begins the segment with some astute observations, and Wauwatosa East and UW-Green Bay legend Gary Grzesk joins the discussion near the end of the segment.

8) Not that it needs to be said, but Jeronne Maymon's performance was maybe the best that I've ever seen at the state tournament. Perhaps the only better performance that I've ever seen was Julian Swartz's effort in the 1999 (I believe that's the right year) tournament, but even that was just one incredible game. Maymon brought his game and put up obscene numbers for three straight nights.

9) On Thursday and Friday I managed late arrivals both nights due to work, and upon my entrance each time, I was surprised at some of the bad fan karma on display by student sections that I was walking past. First was Brookfield Central. As I walked in around mid-third quarter on Thursday night, I found myself dodging my way around an astoundingly huge mass of Brookfield Central students in line for concessions. Maybe going to the state tournament has become old hat for the Lancers, who seem to be there every other year, but to me, the state tournament would seem an important enough event that you’d make darn sure not to miss four minutes of the game standing around trying to get a hot dog.

More egregious than Brookfield Central’s love of stale nachos, though, was the already-forming line of Madison Memorial students preparing to get tickets to the state championship game when I walked into the Kohl Center with 5-6 minutes left in their team’s game against Oshkosh West on Friday night. For a guy that freaked out during his high school days at a premature “Scoreboard!” chant, this sight sent chills up my spine. I’m willing to admit that Memorial’s lead going into that final quarter did seem insurmountable, but ditching most of the final quarter really was tempting fate. And Oshkosh West’s miracle 34-point fourth quarter nearly turned these excited early-birds into a deeply upset mass of students. In the end, the ticket-seeking Memorial students missed 5-6 of the most riveting moments of the tournament (aside from the small television that they watched from the atrium), but got off easy when their team pulled through. Here’s hoping that the Memorial students who stuck around to see all of their team’s game were the ones who got the best seats for the championship game the next night.

10) I got a text message from a friend at the Duke-North Carolina game just prior to the start of the state final game, and it was a weird feeling to consider that I may have actually been in the only place on earth that I’d have rather been than at Cameron that night.

11) Madison Memorial's excellent sophomore Vander Blue has a name that throws me off. After seeing such players as Logan Vander Velden and Dean Vander Plas on the UWGB squad back in the 1990s, I keep thinking that Blue’s name should be something like “Tim Vander Blue.”

12) After the close of the division 3 championship presentation on Saturday night at the Kohl Center, they switched the scoreboard to the names of the teams in the division one final. Only they briefly got it wrong and listed Tosa West as one of the schools involved. Either that, or someone was trying to do a shout-out to me, a guy named West from Tosa.

13) Prior to the state semi-final game, I ran into the mother of my childhood best friend and neighbor Andy, with whom I played basketball and football in my backyard pretty much every day growing up. She and her husband had been the ones who took me and their son to the championship game in 1989. Andy and I grew apart and began attending different schools shortly thereafter, and aside from running into her at a game or two earlier in the year, I hadn't seen Andy's mom in several years. But now Wauwatosa East is 2-2 in state tournaments during which I've seen her. So rest assured that the next time Wauwatosa East heads to Madison, I'll be looking everywhere around the arena to find Andy's mother.

14) Madison Memorial's final possession in regulation was pretty confusing to me. I've never seen anyone hold a ball deeper into the clock than Jeronne Maymon, who began his drive with just over 5 seconds left. At about the 6 second mark, I began to wonder if Madison Memorial was about to pull the ultimate badass move--simply holding onto the ball until time ran out and saying essentially "Screw it--you guys tied the game, but we'll just beat you in overtime." Thankfully, no one's that badass.

15) Congrats to first-year Tosa East coach Tim Arndorfer on setting the bar way too high for his coaching career this year. As great a guy as he is a coach, he's a fun person to watch succeed.

16) I’m sort of amused by the fact that like the 1989 state champions before them, this year’s Wauwatosa East team was pretty clearly not the most talented team that the school has fielded in the 20 or so years that I’ve been watching them. Obviously, neither team was what you’d call devoid of talent, but other years have included some frighteningly talented guys. But while both teams would probably land somewhere around fifth in terms of talent levels over the past 20 or so teams, both also knew how to get the job done, which makes me ooze respect for them.

And with the weekend coming to an end, I couldn’t have been much happier on my drive home. I’d seen old friends from high school and old basketball-watching friends from other facets of life, gotten to hand around Madison, one of my favorite cities, and topped everything off with a thrilling state championship that went to overtime before being won by my favorite team. All in all, not a bad state tournament weekend...


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