While I Was Out...
It’s been a long off-season, but it’s readily apparent that basketball is almost back. Preview guides are on newsstands, college practices kick off at the end of this week, and a guy in a pick-up truck pointed and laughed at me while I was doing a dance of joy after pulling my new Blue Ribbon Yearbook out of my mailbox yesterday.
I’ll be ramping things up more as the season gets closer, but after a mostly absentee offseason for me, I want to catch up on a few of the random things that caught my attention while we were all thinking of things other than basketball. Here are a few thoughts on things that happened while I was out:
1) I’m not sure whether to thank the Marquette ticket office for their generosity or curse them for their foolishness in creating their 5-game packs this year. The Blue package is made up of five Big East games. The Gold package is made up of four Big East games and the Wisconsin game. In other words, you can buy both packs and see the entire Big East home schedule and Marquette’s marquee non-conference game without buying any of the less-than-stellar early non-conference games. So thanks Marquette, you just saved me and my friend Dez $400 this year by allowing us to give up our season tickets and just buy the good games. I’ll still probably scalp tickets to see some of the non-conference games early in the year (UWM for sure), but it’s going to hurt a lot less knowing that I’m not going to have to pay $30 apiece to see Chicago State and Presbyterian if I want half decent tickets to see Syracuse and Connecticut.
2) I’m happy for my cable-watching friends that the Big Ten Network finally reached agreements with Charter and Time Warner during the offseason. It sort of bums me out on two levels, though, as a Directv subscriber. First, now that everyone in the area has the Big Ten Network, my friends and family will no longer be mystified by the magical box in my living room that allowed me to see Wisconsin games. Second, I’m going to have to seriously consider moving back to Time Warner now, as the Time Warner sports channel is the only place to see several Marquette and UWM games (not to mention marquee high school games). The fact that Directv allowed me to see Wisconsin games always outweighed that, but now that Time Warner can deliver those same Wisconsin games, they’ve got the edge on all things local.
3) The most shocking news of the summer, to me, was the announcement of Milwaukee King’s self-imposed 1-year ban from the WIAA tournament, and WIAA-imposed 2-years of provation for violations of recruiting rules. (See here for the details.) The punishment here is totally appropriate, however I think anyone who believes that this will have any impact on recruiting in the city is kidding themselves. Recruiting is still going to happen. This just means that Milwaukee King’s going to take extra steps to ensure that no one tampers with academic records of applicants. Because ultimately, King inviting four middle school kids to open gyms isn’t the type of thing that would upset most people and lead to such a harsh punishment. But academic fraud is going to raise some eyebrows. And because King’s selective admission process and status as the elite school in the Milwaukee Public School system makes it just about the only school susceptible to such fraud, the punishment which it received shouldn’t exactly scare other schools.
4) The new Milwaukee Bucks season-ticket ads are promoting the fact that they acquired Luke Ridnour. Yep, there’s a reason that I don’t follow NBA basketball.
5) Two years ago when Trevor Mbakwe announced that he was coming to Marquette, I predicted that he’d either become one of the best to ever wear a Marquette uniform or he’d transfer out within a year. Sadly, the latter prediction came true (even if my stated reasoning for why it happened was a bit off). Mbakwe’s tenure at Marquette will now be better remembered for his array of odd life decisions than his impressive basketball talent. His last minute transfer to a junior college in an area where he has no discernable ties seems every bit as perplexing as last year’s sudden announcement that he would burn his injury redshirt year by playing in Marquette’s final 11 games on a knee that he acknowledged was not 100%. Whatever his issues, I hope that someday in the near future Mbakwe can find some stability, because it would be sad to see an athlete as gifted as he is never live up to his awesome potential.
6) I was amused and perplexed back in early September on one of my drives to Madison when I first noticed a billboard along the freeway advertising the Fresh Coast Classic basketball tournament, a tournament featuring historically black colleges, to be held in Milwaukee in late November. I can’t help but question the marketing wisdom of spending big bucks on a freeway billboard for a niche tournament set to take place roughly three months after the ad goes up. Basketball was barely on my radar (let alone the radar of anyone who doesn’t regularly obsessively watch basketball) on September 1. Save for my mental note about the absurdity of advertising so far in advance for a tournament made up entirely of teams which no one in Southeastern Wisconsin has a logical interest in, there’s no way I’d have remembered that tournament by late November. (And yes, I fully recognize the irony of criticizing an ad that got me to make an online inquiry to find out more about the advertised event.)
7) I don’t believe I ever commented on Marquette securing a commitment from Jeronne Maymon, but it’s safe to say that I’m excited about that pick-up. Sure, Maymon’s a slight risk due to his academic issues, and I cringe somewhat every time I read a comment that his father makes to the media, but if you’re going to take a risk on someone, it might as well be the best player in the state (with all due respect to Jamil Wilson, who Marquette can also hopefully bring aboard). The upside is that Marquette gets a potential star, and keeps its profile up in the state. The downside is the chance that Buzz Williams might be scrambling to pick up a player late if things don’t work out. After this offseason, though, I’d have to think Buzz Williams has gotten plenty of practice at doing things on the fly.
8) Yes, I am excited about the transfer of super-talented sophomore guard Larry Bradley from Milwaukee Vincent to Wauwatosa East. It will be interesting to see how he meshes with what's sure to be another crowded backcourt for the defending state champs this year.
9) I don't normally get excited about NBA players, but count me among those who fell in love with the U.S. Olympic basketball team this summer. The team deserves praise for winning the gold medal, but even greater praise is deserved for how the members of the team conducted themselves at the games. While we always knew that the U.S. could put together a team with the talent to win a gold medal, it was never as clear that the U.S. could assemble a team of NBA millionaires capable of going through the entire Olympics without looking boorish, disrespectful or disinterested. I’m sure some of the team’s behavior was coached by public relations people, but you still couldn’t fake some of the enthusiasm that was displayed.
In the weeks following the Games, I heard manufactured sports radio arguments about whether this team was better than the 1992 Dream Team. And while I still think that the 1992 team would throttle the 2008 team, I suspect I’ll look back on the 2008 team much more fondly than I do the original Dream Team. After all, it’s a lot more fun to remember LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony cheering wildly for Michael Phelps at a swim meet than it is to remember Charles Barkley elbowing helpless Angolans during blowout wins, or Michael Jordan draping himself in a flag at the medal ceremony not out of patriotism, but out of a desire to respect his corporate sponsor by hiding a competitor’s logo on his warm-ups. I’m sure some of the guys on the 2008 team are probably insufferable jerks in regular life, but for two magical weeks they all suppressed their obnoxious tendencies and the entire team seemed happy to be there, excited to support fellow American athletes, and polite to the competitors of other nations. It’s not a high standard, but finally a team met it, and I couldn’t be more happy.
10) There are some things in life that remind you that you’re not as young as you used to be. One of those things for me occurred this summer when I played in the Sheboygan Gus Macker 3-on-3 Basketball tournament. Back in my teens and early 20s, when my basketball playing ability could be best classified as “not embarrassing,” I played in my fair share of 3-on-3 tourneys. They usually ended after my team fell just short of some sort of trophy, and then my teammates and I went to someone’s house to shoot hoops for another couple hours. This year? We promptly lost three games and were ousted from the tournament early on the second day. Post game didn’t find us shooting more hoops, either. Things are a bit different when you’re 30. Here’s how the second day shook out for me and my teammates Beau, Brian and Ferd at the end of our second day:
Beau: Our normally super-competitive captain was just happy that we finished up early so that he could spend more time that weekend with his 1-year-old son.
Brian: Sadly Brian, our stabilizing force, was not present on the second day, as he was needed for a pressing matter back at his law firm.
Ferd: Our best conditioned player conceded near the end that he was tired, because despite the fact that he was in training for a marathon (by the way, congrats on finishing Chicago this past weekend, Ferd), his training didn’t exactly translate to basketball movements.
Me: I closed out the tournament by throwing my 8-year-old shoes in the garbage after blowing one of them out two minutes into our final game, and making a mental note to call the doctor the next day to get an appointment to have the unusual pain in my knee checked out.
11) It’s almost time: college basketball kick-off events take place on Friday night! Unfortunately, rather than sitting at the Kohl Center enjoying Night of the Grateful Red, I’ll be on a plane heading to my cousin’s wedding in Delaware and furiously reading my newly delivered Blue Ribbon Yearbook. I had given some thought to trying to crash Maryland’s kick-off event in lieu of sitting in on Wisconsin’s, but my flight gets in a bit too late to make that happen (and my family would think I was an absolute idiot for driving a few hours out of my way for a glorified pep rally of a team that I have no connection to, anyway). At least Marquette is throwing me a bone, choosing to have their kick-off event a week later. I may have plans in Madison that night, but if I ultimately miss Marquette Madness, at least I'll have no one to blame but myself.
12) When I have more time, I’ll share my thoughts on the big story of the week--Tom Diener taking over as coach at a Milwaukee Hamilton. I'll wait to form a final opinion once the WIAA has a chance to rule on things, but right now, I'm surprisingly inclined to believe that despite all the red flags surrounding this curious situation, there's ultimately nothing wrong going on. (For more info, check out Tuesday's Journal Sentinel story and related column.
I'm off to go stick my nose back in the Blue Ribbon. Back once I've got something else noteworthy to comment on.