Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Something Special for the Holidays

Usually, when the game winner falls, you'll think to yourself, "Wow. Something special is going on with this team." On the surface, that is not the case here. The U of A Men's Basketball Team - once again - nearly snatched a loss away from the jaws of victory last week. Leading 69-61 with under a minute to play, fans started heading for the exits. Had they not seen the Colorado game? What about UNLV? Lipscomb? The entire Maui Invitational? Appropriately, fans left during the forgettable (save Jimmer Fredette’s 49 points) lesson in execution from the BYU Cougars.

No. Nothing about Nic Wise's game winner(s) - and particularly the process by which it became necessary - suggests something magical, something unique, is happening at McKale this season. Too much is yet to be learned and taught. This team is average at best, young and developing.

But before you think I'm a complete Debbie Downer, before you accuse me of hopping off the bandwagon, allow me this: this is fun. This is not Sports Illustrated covers and 38-point victories. It's not All-Americans and it's not lottery picks. But it is fun.

There hasn't been eager anticipation surrounding Arizona Basketball since 2006, Chase Budinger's freshman year. Since then, it's been a steady decline to "what can go wrong next?" Four coaches in four years; an heir to the Olson throne announced and fired; Olson returns, then retires. Seemingly nothing has gone right for this program lately, but things are changing. Now, with a suited man named Stability at the helm, a crop of five projects, and a new logo, we have something special to look forward to.

This is fun because we get to watch a program be (re)built. You want wins now? Take short cuts for victories? How’d that work out at USC? Kansas State? (UMass, Memphis, Kentucky, yeah!) I’m not na├»ve, college sports are tainted, but the numbers don’t lie. Of the past 43 NCAA Men’s Basketball Champions only three champs are not ranked in the Top 50 of ESPNs All-Time programs. Two of the three programs (UConn and Florida) have won multiple championships. To win in March—when it matters—you need a program, not a season.

Listen to Stability speak; he oozes reality and reeks of process. He sees this program growing. He speaks a foreign tongue to most fans: big picture. Fans speak in rightnow-ese. “We’re not a very good team right now,” Stability says. Gasp! Blasphemous in rightnow-ese. In big picture that means, “Revel in this mediocrity because it will not last long.”

On the eve of the Pac-10 season and New Year we are faced with possibility and hope. The conference tournament champion receives an automatic bid to the tournament and that would appear to be every Pac-10 team’s best shot at the Dance. The Wildcats – and the rest of the league – will improve; but the basketball will be poor and not worthy of national attention. Ultimately – and I’ll say it again – you’re remembered for what you do in March. Anything’s possible. I hope.

Stability knows that a twenty-sixth NCAA Tournament birth is a long shot and likely not going to happen. Accept it. Grieve some on Selection Sunday and - for the first time in 25 years - have a shot at your office pool (that is if you’re like me and Arizona has won each of the last 25 titles).

When Stability left Xavier, he held a press conference to explain his decision and thank everyone he cared about at the school. He cried. It was genuine and demonstrated how passionate he is about his program. Stability stated one reason as to why he would leave that community to build another: a National Championship. There's your something special.

(Sean Miller press conference leaving Xavier)

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