John Stevens is a featured columnist for RTC. His columns will appear on Tuesdays throughout the season.
We can stop now.
No need to continue going to YouTube to relive highlights of last season.
We can stop reading (and re-reading) those strange single-issue pre-season magazines.
We don’t have to keep checking the listings at ESPN Classic or the Big Ten Network for a stray college basketball replay.
Somewhere in Florida, Dick Vitale has been taken out of a moth-ball-filled crate (or out of his tasty Tampa Bay Rays box seats) and has had his big bald pumpkin dusted off. He is drinking hot tea to prepare his voice. He knows that the weekly Mike-and-Mike appearances are not enough, now. He knows it’s time to go to work.
Somewhere in New England, the always delightful and informative Tom Brennan is shopping for blazers. Hopefully with his wife’s help.
At this moment, Digger Phelps is in a Staples, eyeballing the highliter section with genuine concern, holding up ties next to them to insure proper color-coordination. Jay Bilas and the Davises (Rece and Hubert) are watching replays of the Tim Tebow pep talk and laughing like Charley Steiner.
They’re polishing the floors at Pauley and Cameron Indoor. Oh yes, they’re setting up chairs at Rupp and O’Connell. If you listen hard enough, you can hear that blessed sound, that sweet, echoing collision between basketball leather and hardwood, coming from Louisville and Lawrence, Spokane and Storrs.
And we know why. It’s back.
God, it’s always been this way for me. Ever since I can remember, the middle of October has meant – political rhetoric aside — well, a feeling of new hope. Not just for the prospect of a great season for my favorite team(s), but for the fact that there WAS a season; that for the next five months, my favorite sport was going to take over everything – the TV, the radio, the conversations between me and my friends – and man, how sweet it was going to be.
“Take over” is the correct term, there. Seriously, some of my earliest memories of childhood were sitting with my basketball-coach father in front of a TV as he taught me why you have to “overload” a zone, or the best way to break a 2-2-1 full court press, or how, by looking at your defender’s feet, to tell the exact moment to go on a dribble-drive. On random weekdays in grade school and junior high, my friends and I would be bleary-eyed having stayed up to catch the end of, say, Seton Hall at UC-Santa Barbara, or Loyola Marymount at Gonzaga, because if you were in our crowd you had better be able to discuss it. Especially during the season, we’d be fired up to play HORSE, 21, or 5-on-5 on any playground we could find. Rain or snow? Didn’t matter, makes it more interesting. 3am and the cops showed up? Who cares, we’ll find another court. Yeah, we were geeks, at least about college basketball. We didn’t care. We still are.
I’m willing to bet that if you’re reading a college basketball blog, you probably share my excitement, and you probably have similar memories to the ones I’ve recounted above. Maybe you have a specific moment in college hoops’ glorious history that made you an immediate lifelong fan. Perhaps you can recall the exact details of where you were for the Bryce Drew Miracle. Or Tyus Edney coast-to-coast. Or Gabe Lewullis in 1996. Well take heart, friends. November has arrived. It ain’t March, but it’s still pretty damn good.
And the upcoming season is already intriguing in so many ways. So many questions are waiting to be answered. For the first time in a while, we have a true Goliath to start a season, this time in the form of the 2008-09 edition of the North Carolina Tarheels. Can they live up to the already-churning hype machine and take their place as one of the greatest squads ever assembled? Can Ol’ Roy live up to the challenge and complete this task? What absolute sickness does Stephen Curry have in store for us this year? Will this new three-point line redefine the position of the 2-guard? Will the traditional center re-emerge as the premier position on the floor because of it? Will it bring back the lost of art of the mid-range jumper? Is Duke over- or undervalued this year? Is Davidson the new Gonzaga? Speaking of the Zags, is Austin Daye as special a player as he seems? Will Billy Gillispie’s second season in Lexington be as impressive as his second seasons at UTEP and Texas A&M (therefore catapulting him to deity status)? And what is it going to be like to look over at the Arizona sideline and NOT see Lute Olson? Jeez, you might as well make the baskets 26 feet high and make the court triangular, because it will seem like a different game.
I can’t wait to have them all answered. So serve it up, let’s light this candle. With everything that’s gone on in this country (sports and otherwise) in the last seven months, it seems like a million years ago that we crowned Bill Self and his Jayhawks as champions. So give me Big Monday. Love him or loathe him, give me Dickie V having one of his on-air seizures of hoops happiness. Give me Gus Johnson on the mic with a last-second shot in the air. Bring on Bracketology and let’s have some mid-majors. It’s time for Rick Pitino’s white suit and the Fox Sunday night game.
Because finally…it’s here. Rejoice, college hoops fans. Our game is back.