When Khalid El-Amin uttered his famous “We shocked the world” to Jim Nantz and Billy Packer moments after UCONN won its first title in 1999, few could have glanced into the crystal ball and foreseen what the next 15 years would behold 4 more Final Fours, 3 more National Titles and a program that is now tied with the Duke program it “shocked” back in 99 on the all-time championship list.
Oh, and its legendary coach retiring a year after being suspended for his “involvement” (or lack thereof) in the Nate Miles scandal and a program that Shabazz Napier so “poignantly” reminded us was just banned from the NCAA Tournament a season ago for poor academic performance.
It would be easy to celebrate Connecticut’s mantle-taking 15 year run. Kevin Ollie put on a truly historic coaching show in guiding this team to victory with UCONN becoming the second-lowest seeded team in the 64 team era to take it all.
And yet, as much as Abba may be right, something about this feels oh so wrong.
Monday night’s championship game pitted one school just a year removed from its aforementioned “difficulties” against another whose much-maligned coach has already had two final fours at two different schools pulled from the record books for various violations. Not to mention his polarizing use of the broken one and done system.
And although we have been here before, I challenge anyone to find a title game with less appealing “characters” or even better, a title game more representative of everything that is wrong with its era.
Perhaps you knowledgeable experts will remind me of a time seemingly lost in history, an era when an entire CCNY squad and a certain Cleveland Browns Hall of Famer’s brother were caught up in a “number crunching” game so egregious they were banned for life from playing in the NBA.
We have also had Jack Molinas and Eddie Biedenbach. Dana Kirk served jail time. Todd Bozeman was out for a decade. I get it, the list goes on and on. So why pick on Connecticut and Kentucky, two pinnacles of the game?
Because clearly the best are not above reproach. In fact, it is quite the opposite.
Big Blue fans are all too used to this though, or at least they should be.
Kentucky’s 1952-53 season was an undefeated gem, 0-0, thanks to the what amounts as the first ever “death penalty” given to a school (you can thank Mr. Groza and Mr. Beard among others for that).
Kentucky fans need only fast-forward 35 years to understand why Eddie Sutton is not yet in the Hall of Fame (see Dwayne Casey and Chris Mills, allegedly, anyway). Oh, and no need to worry, Doug Gottlieb, if “Tark the Shark” got in having had wins pulled from two different schools (Long Beach St. and Fresno St.) and a championship game appearance pulled from a third (1991 UNLV), your beloved Coach Sutton will one day be enshrined as well.
In all of the above lies my point: not only is college basketball broken (and always has been), but the ones with the power (the media) and the ones without it (the public) not only blindly and ignorantly accept the nonsense, they instigate and perpetuate it.
Sports are not the Holy Grail. They are as representative of society (perhaps even more so) as any other facet of life, particularly when it comes to its “money conquers all” mindset.
Yes, Badger fans, I know. On the surface, your program does it the right way, at least as compared to those listed above. And Gator fans, you deserve a mention here too, as yes, even your team started 4 seniors without a hint of stench–recruiting, academics, or otherwise (although your coach in the past has had accusations tossed his way, but then again, what coach hasn’t?).
Conceivably, a Wisconsin-Florida matchup in the final would have altered my mindset, but only temporarily.
I wish I could celebrate today, I really do. But in the face of this level of brokenness, who can? Not this guy.