DEBORAH SALOMON: Hoops Fever: College Basketball Not Just a Game
From November until April, college basketball is my life.
OK, that's an exaggeration. I continue to eat, sleep, work, bathe, exercise and complain. But my heart belongs to ACC teams beginning with Duke (my alma mater), then Carolina (the beloved nemesis, which plays Duke tonight), N.C. State, Wake Forest, Maryland, Clemson, Virginia, Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech. Boston and Florida just don't click for me, but nonconference Davidson's a keeper.
I plan evenings and weekends around televised games -- secretly, shamefully calculating losses that will push Duke up the ladder. Hey, this is real, fresh, semi-violent contact -- no virtual, no "reality." The blood, sweat and tears are being shed on and wiped up from polished hardwood in real time, enforced by instant replay after instant replay after instant replay from every angle.
I'm sure players are warned against adjusting undergarments and mouthing expletives. Wiping noses on jerseys is permitted.
Some people don't get it. One colleague floored me by saying basketball was just 10 guys running back and forth on a court. When you've seen one game, you've seen 'em all, he said. Then don't go back to Hooters, I answered. When you've seen two, you've seen 'em all.
Attachment runs deep: My high school basketball team won the state championship in the 1950s. I was a cheerleader. There is no greater glory in this hyper-basketball state. I attended almost every game (exams be damned) as a Duke undergrad, which is odd since I'm no sports nut. Hockey and tennis are bearable because you can see what's happening, but football's too messy and baseball puts me to sleep.
Basketball, however, is a beautiful, visual game: easy to follow, breathtaking in its grace and strength, fast-paced and emotional.
Of course, as a ditzy old dame I enjoy the game on multiple levels. Perhaps by sharing I can enhance your pleasure during the weeks leading up to the ACC tournament in Atlanta (March 12-15) and the Final Four in Motown (April 4-6).
Know the players by their locks, or lack, as in Clemson's three-point whiz Terrence Oglesby -- blonde and seriously receding. Appears that Duke's Kyle Singler gets his spike job from Herman Munster's barber. I tear up over the semi-brush cuts resurrected by Duke's Jon Scheyer and Carolina phenom Ty Hansbrough. Last year, big hair was in vogue. But now the only significant ponytail swings behind Raymond Sykes of Clemson.
Other players (barely in their 20s) evoke grandmotherly instincts: Would somebody please take Maryland's Jin Soo Kim home and feed him? And who gave the Demon Deacons permission to sleeve their arms with tattoos?
I even rate the commentators: Gentleman Mike Gminski is my No. 1. Len Elmore is calm and informative, but tell Dick Vitale that the game's not about him.
Basketball has waxed more dramatic since my cheerleading days. Plays are choreographed like a ballet, then executed with rugby force. Collisions -- mid-air or with photographers crouched in the danger zone -- are brutal, often resulting in injury.
Last season, I zoomed in on mom and dad as son Mike Causey, Georgia Tech's roadrunner, went down with a concussion, got up, went down again, limped off, rolled his eyes, shuddered, re-entered the fray. Early this season, I cringed as leggy Tar Heel Tyler Zeller crumpled like a giraffe, arising with a broken wrist.
I keep tabs on the coaches' haircuts, square-shouldered suits and flamboyant ties, the cheerleaders' abs, face-painted/bewigged /rehearsed pep sections providing a constant roar.
A chill shudders through me each time a three-pointer swishes through the nylon. A steal followed by a coast-to-coast ending in a slam dunk evokes a pubescent squeal. I sweat every free throw and watch the shot clock like a hawk, especially when I am invested in the outcome.
Like tonight. Tonight's the night: Duke-Carolina at Duke. After 50 years, I can still smell the tension at Cameron Indoor Stadium when Light Blue comes calling.
Whatever happens, I'll jitter through the ACC Tournament and onto the Big Dance.
After that, to quote the Bard, "the rest is silence."
Until November, when sneakers again squeak on the hardwood, freshmen flap their satin knickers and I put aside adult pursuits for blue face paint and other childish pleasures.
Deborah Salomon, a frequent contributor to The Pilot, lives in Southern Pines. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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