Wednesday, October 20, 2010

One Beautiful Big Red Season

For lovers of mid major college basketball, consider the book, One Beautiful Season.

Book Summary:

Every year, there are over 330 universities that compete for the National Championship of Division I men's basketball. But over two-thirds of those languish in the shadows of the affluent and constantly-televised major conferences, clamoring for chances to take part in America's greatest three-week sports spectacle: the March Madness of the NCAA Tournament. One Beautiful Season: Inside College Basketball's Mid-Majority follows the intertwined stories of the players and coaches, the families and fans -- even the pep bands and mascots -- who inhabited this sports shadow world during the fateful 2009-10 season.

Written by veteran traveling hoops columnist Kyle Whelliston, with a foreword by Sports Illustrated's Luke Winn, this book is both a celebration of college basketball and an alternative history of the game itself. It is a study of how and why NCAA college basketball split between Davids and Goliaths in the first place, 100 years chronologized and crystallized in One Beautiful Season and one perfect Tournament. It is a 15,000-mile November-to-April journey full of hopes, dreams and heartbreak on the road to the Final Four in Indianapolis, and the story of one team that was one shot away from winning it all.

In the words of author Kyle Whelliston, "Chapters 6 and 4 are Big Red-centric."

Below is a sample excerpt:

Cornell: Love of the Game from Chapter 4, "The Ugly Game"

The Big Red had one final run in them. There are a lot of sports clich├ęs about playing for pride and a love of the game. But the Cornell players, and anybody who participated in Ivy League sports, received no rewards for their effort beyond the simple chance to play. With no athletic scholarships, they didn't even receive a free education out of the deal. Everybody was a walk-on, from the top scorer to the 15th man, and with no medical redshirts, every injury shortened a career. If there was any motivation at all for a team like this to advance in a national single-elimination event, it was true and actual school pride. Every win kept the team together for one more day.

The Wildcats stopped scoring and slacked in the second half, saving their energy for West Virginia and the Elite Eight. Cornell filled the scoring vacuum. With offensive rebounds and increased intensity, the Big Red cobbled together a string of three-pointers and third-chance layups to build a 13-2 run. Dale drilled a long shot over a flopping Cousins, who'd somehow found himself caught out on the perimeter. With five minutes to go in regulation, the score was 40-34. Despite making just a third of their shots, Cornell was three possessions away from a third consecutive upset, one that would rival and potentially eclipse Northern Iowa's win over Kansas.

But love of the game, devotion to team and school, never guaranteed victory. Heart and desire are intangibles that only deliver players to the opening tip-off; what happens during games is left to circumstance, fate, wit and raw skill. The future NBA stars of Kentucky were fueled by a more primal human desire than love. They refused to lose because they rejected the idea of embarrassment. They would not be Gardner-Webbed in front of millions of viewers on a national stage.

After scoring eight points in the first 15 minutes of the second half, the Wildcats scored 22 in the final five. When Wall scored on a highlight-reel alley-oop in the final minute, there were few still there at the Carrier Dome to see it live. Donahue had already brought his seniors out of the game, and most of the Cornell fans had said their goodbyes long before the 62-45 scoreline was finalized. The hour was late, and there was work to do on Friday. It was midnight in upstate New York, both literally and figuratively.

"What this group accomplished is almost surreal, everything that's gone on the last two weeks," said Donahue after the game. "I know it sounds corny, but in my opinion, they love each other more than any other team in this Tournament. That's why we were good. That sounds crazy, but that's why. When we got to that point and we cut it to six, I really thought we had it. I thought this was our game.

"These guys are going to kick themselves, but this has been unbelievable. I appreciate it, and I understand. They will soon."

1 comment:

Harry '59 said...

I was at the Kentucky game with a classmate after being blessed to have been in Jacksonville the week before. As we started our second half run, I told him that if we got within six we'd win. Two stange things happened after Kentucky scored the next basket. Whitman's three point shot went in and out, then he missed two foul shots...ballgame. When the team returned to the hotel we were headquarted in, they were given a standing ovation, and a cadre of alumni visited with them, their families, and the Donahues well into the night. What a run! What a great season!