The face of college basketball this glorious week is not a CBS logo, or collage of chirping heads at ESPN. It’s belongs to the man with a toothpaste smile, Dennis Felton.
Ah, America, land of opportunity found, lost and found.
A fortnight ago, Georgia was on nobody’s bubble and Felton’s boss was talking “job review at season’s end.”
Today, the Bulldogs (17-16) are in the field of 65 and Felton is to hoops what Barack Obama is to American politics. Pepsodent smile and media darling.
Who knew? March Madness in America. I love this place.
Close to home, Louisville, Western Kentucky and however unlikely, Kentucky are dancing in March again.
A few impressions:
• Louisville in Birmingham. Rick Pitino’s team played itself down to a 3-seed into a caution light district in the East. Projecting two wins, the Cardinals get feisty Butler or feisty South Alabama. Either way, a win gets us a Scream Game, Louisville-Tennessee.
If its true Las Vegas gamblers will bet on anything, how about 2-1 odds on which coach looses his voice first? Or, who is teedup first, Pitino or Bruce Pearl?
• Western Kentucky is in sunny Tampa. Hilltoppers open against Cinderella Drake. Arkansas Indiana excepted, this could be the best of first round games. For Darrin Horn’s team the storyline is familiar. Get to second round respect and a shot at another big, UConn. Too, its more long green.
• Kentucky is in Anaheim. Rewards? Despite nightmare season, Wildcat hoops extend Big Dance streak to 17, players get a trip to sunny beach. Marquette with make it one-anddone, get Billy Clyde Gillispie a recruiting jump start.
• What a difference a year makes. Billy Donovan is a veritable Billy Who?
• Fun game in first round: IN Midwest, Gonzaga-Davidsion.
• Along with the media herd who bought Jay Bilas’s December line as if he were Alan Greenspan, “the Southeastern Conference is down this year,” those of you who bought it, raise your hands. Good and high and repeat these words: Six SEC teams are dancing this week and two more played themselves out at season’s end, Ole Miss and Florida.
March Madness in America. I love this place.
Sports departments stopped being newspaper toy shops long ago. Gone is an era when kids of all ages competed, shook hands and said, “lets play two tomorrow!” Sports has shifted too far to splashy investigative reports of who uses performance enhancing drugs and “hey, look-atme!” show-time.
Why? Money of course, and a coach culture that winks at sportsmanship and demands toughness to whatever limit a referee chooses.
I still believe sports has a toy shop. The late Al McGuire used to laugh and remind us, “hey, it’s all bubbles, blue skies and sea shells.”
To that end, this week, items in the Toy Shop:
• Mar. 13. For those of us past 60, applaud Billy Crystal. One of America’s best funny men played in a Major League baseball game last week and did what a comedian should do, hit a foul ball. Crystal got to live the dream of every kid who bought a baseball card, play in Big League game in a Yankees uniform.
• Mar. 15. Chris Lofton swished a trademark 3-pointer to save the Vols from South Carolina. More, Lofton reminded us what a terrific kid from small town Kentucky can still do. Hit a boyhood clocker – “3-2-1 backyard swisher!”
• Mar. 14. Minnesota trailed Indiana by a point with 1.5 seconds left when freshman Minnesota reserve Blake Hoffarber caught a 75 foot pass from Travis Busch, wheeled right, turned and lofted a left-hander. Swish!
Busch would say later it was the longest second-and-half of his life. No, kid, it will be in your top three life memories. Hoffarber too (one of Tubby Smith’s first signees at Minnesota).
• Mar. 15. Georgia trailed Kentucky by a basket with eight seconds left. Bulldog star Sandiata Gaines had fouled out replaced by an Ollie look-a-like from the movie Hoosiers, Zac Swansey. A freshman, Swansey took an inbounds pass, drove to the 3-point line, reversed and fired over Ramon Harris. Swish!
From nowhere to star of the game, Swansey said, “It’s something I dream for (opportunity) to come in and show what I can do.”
• In April, in Princeton, Kentucky Stephany Oaks receives a Yes I Can! award next month from the Council for Exceptional Children. Like a ball player who discovers one day, “hey, I’m good at this.” Stephany, 19, found photography and “hey, she’s very good at it.”
Sports’ Toy Shop. Yes, if one looks closely, it’s still there.
10 Most Intriguing
Ten most intriguing sports personalities ever? Offered mine in this space last week. Today, Bill Ball, Elizabethtown offers his: Greatest athlete: Ted Williams. Most Intriguing: Jesse Owens, Dizzy Dean, Casey Stengel, Ty Cobb, Jim Thorpe, Ali, Babe Ruth, Adolph Rupp, Ben Hogan, Babe Didrikson Zaharias and Pete Rose. OK, that’s 11, so shoot me.”
What about your top 10? Write to SprtsinKy@aol.com
Top 10 Kentuckians
In follow-up to a segment derived from a feature at www.WatchMojo.com … Top 10 in Everything lists, here is one man’s Top 10 (plus two) Most Intriguing Kentuckians.
Mary T. Meagher (Louisville) Bill Keightley (Lexington) Bob Schneider (Newport) Ashley Judd (Nashville) Tom Payne (Eddyville) Gloria Compton (Lexington) Randy Marsh (Covington)
S.T. Roach (Lexington)
John Oldham (Bowling Green)
George Clooney (Maysville) Rick Pitino (Louisville) Harry Lee (Elizabethtown) Favorites you’d like to meet?
Did the term March Madness originate in Indiana or Kentucky? Neither. Henry Van Arsdale Porter, an athletics administrator in Illinois. He wrote a poem in 1939 called Basketball Ides of March. Porter was inducted into the Naismith Hall of Fame in 1960.
And so it goes.