Monday, March 16, 2009

Rescuing Black College Basketball

"MY-KEY! Stop it! What are you DOING? Come ON! Change the channel! This is torture!"

My brother was pleading with me to change the channel, but I refused. The primary goal of college basketball is to enterta--, I mean, provide young amateurs with the opportunity to receive a higher education (ahem), and the MEAC championship was doing just that. No, not with the education part, but with that “Arrrrrgh, this is SO awful, but I just…can’t…turn AWAY!” entertainment value. Now I know why some people enjoyed watching VH1’s Flavor of Love.

“I’d rather watch the pregame show for the Syracuse/Louisville game than this!”

Yea, my brother was right. I know AAU teams that would scrap the floor with the two squads vying for this MEAC “championship”. Heck, I can probably grab five guys from the Rucker to baptize these cats. But I HAD to watch. I was ready to lavish praise on Morgan State, a team that had beaten Maryland (ACC) and DePaul (Big East) this year, and a team that I thought might make ripples in the NCAA Tournament this year. Someone had to document this atrocity, and it was going to have to be me.

A few minutes in, my bro and I agreed to a truce: We would watch the game until the next TV timeout or the beginning of the Syracuse game, whichever came first. I agreed because, well…the game was so bad. I’ve never seen such terrible execution of dribble drives, interior passes, and jump shots in my life. The real-life equivalent would be like going to a Dane Cook movie on opening night knowing full well that he was going to disappoint greatly, watching the movie in its entirety, and STILL being surprised at the amazing terrible film quality. (For the record, WHAT DO PEOPLE SEE IN DANE COOK? HE'S NOT FUNNY!)

Honestly, with all the bricks, you’d think that Habitat for Humanity was one of the sponsors of the tournament.

We began watching the game at around the 14:00 mark of the second half. Charlie Neal, ESPN’s black college play-by-play, mentioned that Morgan State was on a 10-0 run. But it was really more like a walk. Morgan State built their lead by living on the free throw line throughout the entire second half. At one point, Chris and I thought that Morgan’s strategy was to sit back. I don’t think that the clock moved more than ten seconds on any given possession. (By the way, how many black play-by-play announcers does ESPN have in their bullpen? I can only name three: Mark Jones, Mike Tirico, the babe-loving broadcaster, and Charlie Neal. For a company that swears by their minority hiring policy…that’s pretty shoddy. But I digress…)

My favorite moment of that stretch was when the ESPN cameras cut to Morgan’s coach Todd Bozeman, who had one of those “Not only am I the best coach in the MEAC, I’m the best coach by a WIDE MARGIN!!!” grins on his face. Classic.

I’ll admit the salient truth once and for all, even if it gets me stoned at my doorstep once I get back to college after Spring Break. The MEAC is UNWATCHABLE. Period. Whenever a school (Morgan State) can add one relatively marginal component to their team (a coach) and instantaneously eclipse the rest of the conference, you KNOW that things aren’t looking the greatest. The conference is almost as bad as the "Just for Men" advertising campaign. Almost.

Heck, most players in the conference don’t even pretend to work on improving their games in their free time. For example, on Howard’s team…we’ve got one guy (who will remain nameless) that can’t catch a pass if his life depended on it. Without fail, he’ll get an opportunity once a game to spin and get an easy dunk…but the basketball will always hit him square in the palms and then shamefully roll to the cheerleaders’ standing section. I mean, this unnamed player has athletic ability. Everybody who sees the guy in uniform can tell that said player’s got the potential to regulate the post area on both sides of the floor. But he can’t catch. You’d think that this guy would get hit in the face so many times that he’d be embarrassed enough to work on his hands over the summer. Nope.

In addition, the fans are a joke. I’m sure you’ve heard the old saying, “If you don’t vote, you can’t complain” before. Well, black college basketball students, if you never enter the gym during home games to support your squad, I don’t want to hear your mouth. I hate it when people say to me, “Hey, I’ll be there once we start winning games.” You don’t get it, do you? Players need fan support in order to push them to play their best basketball. That’s one of the secrets to improving your basketball team. Basketball players don’t have much motivation to work from on the college level. Players don’t get paid, but they have to commit to their craft in order to keep their rather paltry scholarships. Players live for the electric atmosphere. When HU basketball games are filled to capacity at Burr Gymnasium, you can feel the buzz. Players thrive off of that additional viewership. When the fans attend their team’s home games, a nonverbal contract is made with the players: either play your best basketball, or get clowned on campus. No questions asked.

Why do I spend so much time knocking the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference? Well, I absolutely LOVE basketball. I’m sick of seeing these other mid-major conferences get automatic bids to the Big Dance while our black college teams annually end up in the Tuesday play-in game. I can see the potential for greatness that exists in our conference. I’ve seen a disciplined Morgan State take it to the best teams in the nation without recompense. Heck, I’ve seen the Real HU prove the doubters wrong and beat a Pac-10 squad (Oregon State) on their home floor in front of a raucous crowd.

Sure, I might be making jokes and snide remarks…but I kid because I love. I don’t want MEAC basketball to go the way of MEAC football, a sport victimized by crappy Terrance Howard-led halftime shows and the BCS system, in that order. Heck, I know that most of my readers tapped out once they saw the words “MEAC” and “basketball” at the beginning of this article, but I didn’t care. I’ve got to do my part in order to inspire positive change for the sport.

But first things first. Morgan State, we need you to make some noise in the Big Dance. Let’s just pretend that yesterday’s MEAC championship debacle was just a big elaborate ruse set up to confuse the basketball world. I know you have the ability to play an impressive game. Show some pride. Go play a strong game against Blake Griffin and the Oklahoma Sooners. It’s time to show the basketball world that the MEAC conference means business.

Or not. Hey, Blake Griffin is a beast. No one would blame the Bears if they decided to keel over and get smacked. Which is precisely why Morgan State needs to bring their A game on Thursday.

No pressure.

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