Monthly Archives: January 2010
It’s been said that you never really appreciate something until you no longer have it, but I like to think that I appreciated every day that I woke up in Tuscaloosa, AL during my five years in college. It was the first place in my life where I really felt like I belonged. It was warm and comforting and yet just as comedic as a dysfunctional family. I never expected to feel that way when I first visited the campus in high school, but there was something about that place the minute I got there that I just knew. I knew it was home. Now, I’m not saying my five years didn’t come with its share of adversity and trial. On the contrary, I faced some of my biggest fears and had some of my biggest heart breaks on that campus. They made me stronger. The University of Alabama made me stronger. Tuscaloosa, AL made me stronger. I completely believe that I would be a totally different person if I had gone to college anywhere else.
I didn’t land on campus because of anything to do with athletics, and when I tell people that, they’re still shocked. They don’t understand why anyone would go to Alabama for any other reason mainly because they don’t think Alabama has anything else to offer. But when I chose The University for its academics it was because they had one of the best accounting schools in the southeast. That carried more weight than you can even imagine, and so, I embarked on a five-year love affair with a place that can still to this day make my heart skip a beat.
I miss the smell of the smoke stack in winter. I miss walking to class in standing water because there was no proper drainage system. I miss the sound of the quad on gameday. I miss the traffic on campus on a Friday afternoon. I miss dodging cars in the pedestrian walkways. I miss lawn decorations during Homecoming. I miss pep rallies. I miss the sound of the train that never failed to make at least one person late to class every day. I lived on campus so I never had to worry about that. I miss the smell of the bread company on 15th street because on a clear, windy day the smell of fresh baked bread would permeate campus. I miss walking up and down three flights of stairs to do my laundry. I miss the light breeze that would blow in around March and make me bust open my dorm room windows to let it in. I miss steak night in the Burke cafeteria. I miss fighting for parking spaces…everywhere! I miss the people…the people who asked how you were and really wanted to know. I miss knowing that my professors were some of the smartest people in the world and realizing that even then I still wasn’t fully appreciating their knowledge.
Now, academics aside, it’s very hard to attend Alabama without becoming fully engrossed in the athletics. I loved football games in October because the weather had changed just enough to make it not too cold and not too hot and the sound of Bear Bryant’s voice over the loud speakers still makes the hair on my neck stand up. I loved basketball games in the winter because Coleman Coliseum is electrifying from the student section and Jeremy Hays was HOT! I loved gymnastics meets because you haven’t lived until you’ve sat in the Coliseum, had the lights go down, and those girls walk out like they own the place…because they do. I loved baseball games in the spring on Friday nights sitting in the bleachers on the left field line because those boys could just flat-out play.
You have to remember that I didn’t grow up an Alabama fan. I couldn’t claim knowledge of any of the 12 national championships they’d earned before I arrived on campus. So, this newest national championship, #13, is actually my first. I’ve never been a fan of a team when they won a national championship in football. Thirteen years I waited for this to happen. There was laughter and tears and frustration and yelling and screaming and cheers all throughout these last 13 years not because I expected something from the players because they were Alabama football players, but because I could just see it. I could see that they were talented. I could see they were better than their records. I can tell you that Andrew Zow is probably the most underrated quarterback to ever play at Alabama. He never gets enough credit for what he did for his team. I can tell you that Shaun Alexander picked up the pieces of our broken hearts and pieced them back together. And I can tell you that Nick Saban made our hearts whole again after DuBose and Franchione and Price and Shula.
There have been ups and downs, and I’ve been there for it all (in person or miles away). I had my doubts that we’d ever get there, but I still held out hope. I had my doubts that Thursday night when we played in the championship game that we’d bring home that trophy. This making it to the “promised land of college football” is all new to me. I may have never taken a snap on any kind of football field, but this championship was for all of us who wore our team colors proudly despite the snickering from outsiders. There is no other single time in my life that has topped my time at Alabama. I experienced a lot during my time there. I’ve experienced a lot since I left. But no matter where I am in this world, a piece of my heart is always in Tuscaloosa. And that very fact has made me who I am today.
“All the adversity I’ve had in my life, all my troubles and obstacles, have strengthened me… You may not realize it when it happens, but a kick in the teeth may be the best thing in the world for you.”
If you haven’t noticed, I’ve been pretty quiet about the current college basketball season. It’s not because Tyler, Danny, Wayne, and Ty don’t play for Carolina anymore. It’s not because Carolina has lost more games in the first half of the season than some previous teams lost in an entire season. It’s because I felt like this team deserved the benefit of the doubt. They deserved an opportunity to experience growing pains and learn from their mistakes and experiences. So, I’ve held my tongue. Heck, I probably actually bit my tongue. And I’m not writing this JUST because Carolina lost to College of Charleston last night in an overtime game. Actually, last night was just the last straw. To be perfectly honest, the opinions I’m going to voice here have been gathered by watching Carolina WIN games…not lose them. I apologize ahead of time if my focus in this blog post turns to sounding as if I’m speaking directly to the players, but sometimes that’s the only way a thought gets worded correctly. I also want to make sure that I give every bit of credit to College of Charleston that they deserve. They embodied what I say all the time…the majority of playing any sport is mental. And if you fully believe that you can beat your opponent, you have a much better chance of actually doing it…despite any amount of talent or skill you might have…ANY.GIVEN.GAME. The minute you walk in there with a shred of doubt is the minute you’ve lost the game.
So, here goes…
I get that they’re young. I get that they’re inexperienced with the college game. I even get that the entire starting 5 with the exception of one player is no longer on the team. But let’s also point out that the intended starting 5 for the team (if we can ever get everyone healthy at the same time) does not consist of one member of the incoming freshman team. In fact, all but two of the intended starting 5 played major minutes last year and in the championship game. Now, I’m not the kind of person who expects a national championship every single season, but I do expect the players to actually compete. What I’ve noticed in the 15 games they’ve played so far this season is that they don’t have rhythm. They don’t look good on the court together. It’s like 5 complete strangers showing up at a school yard court deciding to play together against 5 other people. I understand that rhythm takes time. It takes learning how each person moves on the court and where they’re going to be at each point in any given play. But we’re talking about a group of people who have been playing pick up games since the beginning of the summer. Basketball is not rocket science, folks. We are all creatures of habit and that flows right down to every last movement we make as individuals. It shouldn’t be that difficult to learn your teammate’s idiosyncrasies.
Another thing I notice is that they play selfish. I’m not sure if it’s ego driven and that certain members of the team are more concerned about being a one and done college player or a two and done college player, but I can tell you this much: No NBA scout is impressed with how you performed individually in the losses to Syracuse or Texas or College of Charleston. Sometimes I think the selfishness lends itself to the history of Carolina basketball. I think a lot of the team is walking out on that court expecting to win the game BECAUSE of the name on the front of the jersey instead of playing FOR the name on the front of the jersey. There’s a big difference there. Just because Carolina basketball is what it is does not mean that when you step on the court in that uniform, they automatically hand you the win and we can all go home. No…wearing that uniform means that your teammates, your coaches, your fellow students, your fans EXPECT you to play at a high level. They expect you to be some of the best talent in the entire country, but yet still skilled enough to play a team sport. Maybe that’s a lot of pressure, but if you expected playing for Carolina to be a walk in the park, you were dead wrong. Let’s also go back to the selfish bit and talk about why you came to Carolina. Did you come to Carolina because players from there go to the NBA? Or did you come to Carolina to play college basketball, to learn from one of the greatest minds the college game has ever seen, and to have a CHANCE to win a national championship? Think about that. Why are you in Chapel Hill?
I’ve listened to countless hours of press conferences from Coach Williams. I’m soon to be engrossed in his autobiography. I understand from what he tells us all in the mainstream world what he expects from his players. I’ve heard him rake the team over the coals and I’ve heard him take the blame for something that’s a million miles from being his fault. And this is what I’ve come to learn: If you listen to Coach Williams and then do what he tells you, you win the dadgum ballgame. Should I repeat that to make sure everyone heard it? If you listen to Coach Williams and then do what he tells you, you win the dadgum ballgame. The man has been to more Final Fours than he has fingers on one hand. He has two national championship rings. HE KNOWS WHAT HE IS TALKING ABOUT, BOYS!
I realize we were all spoiled the last 4 years of Carolina basketball to have a team of players that just flat out read each others’ minds. I’m not expecting you to be Tyler, Wayne, Danny, and Ty. I’m expecting you to be Will, Larry, Deon, Marcus, and Ed. I’m expecting you to listen to each others’ movements and react to them the way you’ve been taught. I know a lot of people have compared this team to the 2006 team after the championship, but WOW…that team lost 6 games all season. They hadn’t lost 4 games until January 22nd of that season…and guess how many seniors were on that team: 2…and one of them was Byron Sanders.
I’m not saying you have to be great or spectacular or anything like that. But I’m expecting you to compete. I’m expecting you to care about who you play for. I’m expecting you to listen and check your personal agendas at the door. Take this kick in the teeth and find a way to stop doing what you’ve been doing out there. Cause it ain’t workin. Incidentally, players, quoting the pearls of wisdom from your coach is only cute if you’re actually doing what you’re quoting.
Now…I know some of you might say, man you’re a horrible fan, but think about it. What kind of fan am I if I just sit here watching and gloss over the elephant in the room? There are a lot of people out there saying, “oh y’all will be ok. Just hang in there.” Um…no! You won’t be ok if you keep going the way you’re going. I don’t believe in coddling the players and making them think everything is ok when it’s not. They’re clearly not listening. They clearly don’t care when they lose. They clearly don’t care when they win despite how crappy they play. That’s an attitude problem and certainly one that doesn’t belong anywhere near the hardwood. So let’s stop pretending and let’s stop acting like everything is going to be ok. Are they young? Yes. Do they deserve a little slack? Absolutely. But, ask yourself this…are they using being young and deserving slack as a crutch or are they ACTUALLY WORKING TO BECOME WHAT WE KNOW THEY CAN BE? I still wouldn’t want to be a fan of any other team (besides my alma mater, Alabama), but to use something my mother used to tell me: I always love you, I just don’t always love what you do. Call me a bad fan if you want, but personally, I think I’m just saying what we’re all REALLY thinking.