Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Let's Shift Our Attention to the Round Ball!

(Editor's Note: This first appeared in the sports section of Howard University's daily newspaper, The Hilltop, on October 27, 2008. However, here...well, it appears unedited (*full length too long to fit in paper*). Enjoy!)

Greetings, my fellow Americans.

In less than two weeks, we will embark on an historic journey. The road will be filled with a myriad of twists and turns, some anticipating showdowns, and even a few highlights. Heck, history's about to take place in 2008, and I'm glad to be one of many writers detailing this year's significance.

And I'm not just talking about the race between Barack Obama and John McCain for the White House.

Sure, on the night of November 4th, both presidential nominees will be squirming in their seats, waiting as the final ballots are counted in hotly contested battleground states like Ohio and Florida. However, days before either man graces the podium to accept the presidency and lead America for the next four years, I'll be watching an jealous Stephon Marbury stare at the Garden hardwood with a towel draped over his shoulders as Chris Duhon runs an improved New York Knicks offense, waiting for his opportunity to throttle Mike DiAntoni as he paces the sidelines. I can't wait to see Ernie Grunfeld, general manager of the Washington Wizards, watch his inept offense from the executive suite while downing cases of Amstel Light, refusing to believe that his 120 million dollar man - Gilbert Arenas - is slowly becoming this generation's version of Allan Houston.

Ready or not....the NBA season is upon us.

Trust me, you're not the only one that forgot about the NBA season. Somehow, I got blindsided worse than Nancy Kerrigan's knee at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in 1994. Honestly, I have no excuse. I was too busy trying to come to terms with the idea that Chicago's Kyle Orton (1,669 passing yards, 10 TD) is having a statisically better season than Peyton Manning of the Indianapolis Colts (1,531 yards, 8 TD's). Seriously, I'm not quite ready to live in a football world devoid of an operational Tom Brady, or a world that has watched Marvin Harrison make his 'return to normalcy', or a world that has been forced to see Chad Ocho Cinco continue to play with the name 'Johnson' still affixed to the back of his jersey. I was tricked into believing that this NFL season would continue exactly where the Super Bowl ended in February, giving its fans even greater epic feats and broken records. Instead, fans have been seduced into watching the mediocre Kerry Collins lead a undefeated but boring Titans team and wince as Emmitt Smith continues to get 'debacled' and trip over multi-syllabic words. (Emmitt, let's not dance around it any longer...you're just not cut out for work as an NFL analyst. We'll see you in Canton in about two years, buddy.) Let's just hope that some NBA action can ultimately save sports fans from watching this dreadful football season.

Since I'm already convinced that this season's going to be fan-tastic, I've decided to hand out a few awards in advance to some NBA personnel so you can avoid watching them during this upcoming season. Let's just agree to get rid of these nuisances before they ruin our enjoyment of basketball. Plus, now I can avoid giving irrational predictions in this column, like suggesting a Knicks/Warriors final. I'm just saying...

LVP (Least Valuable Player): Vince 'Wince' Carter
Did you know that Vince Carter posted a 24-5-4 clip last year? Wow. Well, now that the Nets are officially gathering funds for the Lebron James sweepstakes in 2010, you can guarantee that Vince (now 30 years old) will shut it down, sign his paychecks, and take fadeaway jumpers for the entire season. He's definitely a guy that I can see in another uniform by February's trade deadline.
Worst Coach of the Year: Larry Brown
I love the fact that GM Michael Jordan decided to pair Larry Brown, a coach known to hate using young players, with a team completely filled with young talent. If you even get the crazy notion that watching the Charlotte Bobcats play this year might be enjoyable, don't be afraid to walk to the health clinic to ask for help. Remember, denial is the first step that people take to overcome tragedy.

Psuedo-Rookie of the Year: Russell Westbrook
Honestly, I think that Westbrook can be a solid player once he understands that being a point guard in the NBA means that he can't take every available jumper on the floor. I'm not convinced that he got the opportunity to gain much point guard experience in college. (By the way, Clay Bennett, those NBA fans you hear outside your window aren't booing, they're saying...no wait, they're booing. Thanks for stealing Seattle's team.)

Least Improved Player: Eddy Curry
When I heard that Eddy Curry snapped the training staff's medicine ball during a workout this offseason, I immediately doubled over with laughter. This is the guy that we expect to benefit from the implementation of the fastbreak offense? Great.

Before casting your ballot in this historic election, get ready for some basketball history to be made.

We're talking about the NBA, where amazing happens.
-Mike "TTK" Benjamin

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Watching Football With the "Yard Family" at Homecoming

(Editor's Note: This article was first written in Howard University's daily black college newspaper, The Hilltop. You can check out this and more of my writings for the Hilltop, at www.thehilltoponline.com. Now, onto the article. Enjoy.)

We’ve got to stop scheduling Morgan State for homecoming.

I saw it go up.

Coach Carey Bailey had just called a great play-action pass for the Bison, leading to an awesome bootleg and toss from QB Floyd Haigler to his running back who scampered into the end zone for six. However, nothing is guaranteed in college football, and our kicker’s extra point attempt sailed wide right.

Final Score: Morgan State 31, Howard 30. And I saw it all from WHUT’s big screen TV on the Yard.

To me, watching the football game from the Yard is one of the most underrated experiences of Homecoming weekend at Howard. Every year a collection of folks from diverse backgrounds and different eras to trek across this country and return to HU.

Though our American economy screams for reform and our wallets cry for attention, the students and alumni refuse to allow this sacred tradition to die.

This multitude of globetrotters and world-changers take a collective break from their lives and muster the resources to gather annually at the Hilltop for their Howard University Homecoming.

For that collection of hours, Howard is more than a simple getaway weekend.

Howard is home.

Every year, the Yard eagerly awaits the return of this huddled mass. Shop owners fight to claim their space along the economic triangle in front of the Carnegie Building, knowing that legions of alumni will walk through to bargain for extravagant paintings and creative Obama T-shirts.

During the football game these shop owners are even busier than they were during Yardfest. Further down towards Douglass Hall, the smell of food circulates the air and draw hour-long lines filled with people who clamor for the taste of home cooking. Though Howard’s fashion show ends on the Thursday night before game day, a stream of new designs and unique threads continue to travel throughout the crowd, voicing the individuality of its wearers.

On the Yard, Homecoming IS football. To the appreciative Yard crowd, the unknown defensive linebacker before the game that later drilled a Morgan State running back during the game will forever be known by the nickname of “Coop.”

The reserve kicker that boots the football through the uprights on only his second career field goal attempt receives genuine cheers because of his resiliency. To these fans, Howard football brings back pleasant memories and toothy smiles.

While the final score on this day may signal another Howard loss, these fans will always remember this team played with intensity and character, attributes that they also strive to exhibit in their daily lives.

Sure, Yard football fans know that overtime action may bring a huge amount of stadium fans that left the stands too quickly in order to beat the traffic or prepare for their future activities after the game. However, the additional fans that join the group add the right amount of nervous excitement and energy to the crowd, wincing and holding their breath along with the Yard fans after every extra snap in overtime.

However different, the constant thread that ties all Homecoming game fans together will still remain the same. We all take joy in watching our players don those blue and white uniforms on that Saturday afternoon.

For those four hours, watching the Homecoming game on the projection screen with folks on the Yard is like piling into a family member’s living room on Thanksgiving to watch football before scarfing down the pot roast and greens. On this Saturday, millions of people around the globe treasure this experience because Howard represents that family. Heck, Howard University is family.

I’m just happy to have a seat at the table. And a spot on the Yard, too.

Michael A. Benjamin II

Saturday, October 18, 2008

A Nod to My Writing Past: My Life as a Freshman Dorm Resident

Editor's Note: Over the next few months, I'll be sporadically writing about certain memories that have influenced and encouraged my writing career. Don't worry, sports fans. I'm currently writing a sports column every Monday over at Howard University's daily college newspaper, The Hilltop. You can check out those articles online at The Hilltop Online.com. I'm also co-hosting my sports talk radio program "Instant Replay" every Monday night from 6-8pm on WHBC radio, the number #1 college station in the nation. Check out the show every week by streaming online at www.whbc830am.com. Lastly, I'll still be writing here, but will probably focus on more open topics. For examples, check out my notes about A Different World, or The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. You'll see what I mean.

Anyway, today's moment: Drew Hall. Enjoy.

Who told me that Senior Year was going to be easy?

I thought I had the perfect Senior Year planned out. First, I made sure to take the bulk of my core classes in my early years at Howard to avoid the heavy course loads that sideline most Seniors from graduation. I took "Beginning Swimming" while I lived in Drew Hall (freshman dorm) so that I didn't have to drag the hospital-clean smell of chlorine around on my body for the entire day. Second, I made sure that those AP credits and college level courses from high school (another time that I could have completely slacked off and enjoyed the year to the fullest) actually got processed by Howard University. I almost got bamboozled, especially with Ms. Han my old graduation scheme advisor deciding to throw up the deuces and leave HU as soon as her pension kicked in. After a long flight back from Beijing that easily left me jetlagged for about two weeks, I had to force myself to wake up early, grab an appointment with my new advisor, and make sure that I was in line with HU regarding my expected departure date, May 2009. Lastly, I wrote a Junior Thesis so that I could merely expand the old thesis into a full length assignment, graduate, and still have to time to write the occasional Facebook "note." Boy, was I ever wrong.

I really miss Freshman Year.

Back during Freshman Year, before I found my niche as a sports guy and all-around creative writer, I was a History major. I loved memorizing random facts, such as the fact that British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain thinking that he was slowing down Adolf Hitler's desire to control Europe by deciding to hand over Czechoslovakia in a treaty. Honestly, was that really going to work? To me, that's the equivalent of giving the neighborhood bully your lunch money for the day, but telling him, "Well, I'm not giving you my money tomorrow, okay?" Do you think he's going to listen? Of course not! He'll probably just wait and then jack you for your loot tomorrow on your way to the bus stop, which is precisely what Hitler did when he entered Poland to force the Second World War in 1939.

(Wow, we're way off topic...let's get back to reminiscing about Freshman year. Sorry.)

Many of the references and ideas that have shaped my writing style were developed during my time in Howard University's Drew Hall. Candidly, Drew Hall was a year-round sweatbox designed in a U-shaped specifically to raise the heat index, and that's putting it nicely. However, Drew Hall was a place that a young frosh could develop into a successful Howard student, to become aware of his surroundings, to understand what it meant to be a college student.

Of course, I'm glad that the elevators in the Towers apartments don't get stuck during Move-In week. I'm also glad that I don't share a shower (ONE single shower) with 40+ dudes and live across from the floor's garbage bin that was filled to the brim daily with old Domino's pizza boxes (gotta respect the 5-5-5 deal) and the famous Ho-Chi scent that disseminated through the halls (along with the caked-up smell of marijuana). However, behind those prison walls and living in the dreary greenish paint that donned the walls of the hated menace, a group of exceptional guys existed. Everyday, behind the doors of Drew's solitary "Penthouse" triple, a displaced genius from New Orleans, an excited optimist from Queens Village, and three great guys from Raleigh, North Carolina joked, laughed, created theories, played video games, and became great friends.

To me, that's what college life is all about. There, in Drew 539, we could chronicle the now-late Sean Taylor's devastating blows through YouTube, wonder aloud at the idea that Will Smith must have had mononucleosis during his run on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, and hold Madden '06 tournaments while arguing for Laveranues Coles' inclusion into a discussion of the Top-25 wide receivers in the league, among other things. The "Raleigh Three" (Brenden, Ellis, and James) along with Jamin helped this young writer cultivate creative new ways to approach writing. While getting to know these guys helped bolster my knowledge of sports and trivia which eventually brandished me as the "Throwback" guy around campus, the friendship that grew over the course of those ten months was important in helping me develop a strong sense of confidence with myself. Simply put, Drew 539 was pure awesomeness.

Nowadays, as I look at life's odometer and realize that my college career has just about run its course, I recognize that my residency in that sweatbox on Gresham Place was key in my development as a writer, a student, and a person. I thank God (first for providing me with awesome ceiling and floor fans) and secondly for allowing us to grow together as students and men. Granted, I never again want to share five washing machines with 300+ guys or lose my visitation privileges because some idiot decides to make the broom closet his personal bathroom stall. However, Drew was a place where you could shout in the hallway after a clutch World Series home run or cackle like Eddie Murphy after defeating your opponent in NBA Live and any guy walking by would cackle along with you.

Drew Hall, thanks for the memories.

-Mike Benjamin, II