Why I’m Glad Kentucky Lost  

Kansas State Bruce Webber
Kansas State Coach Bruce Weber and Xavier Sneed

Kansas State just beat Kentucky 61-58 in the 2018 Sweet 16 in Atlanta. And I’m glad.  All week, Kansas State basketball players heard about how they had no chance against mighty Kentucky. College basketball experts said John Calipari’s team was bigger and better than Bruce Weber’s. They said Kentucky steam-rolled through its first two NCAA Tournament games and had an easy path to the Final Four playing in the friendly confines of Philips Arena while K-State got here on luck as much as it did on talent.

 Of all the teams that made it to the Sweet 16, K-State had by far the least respect. So I’m so happy for Kansas State, but not for the reason you think.

I should be glad for a positive and not a negative reason, right? I mean, I should be glad Kansas State won and defeated Kentucky for the first time EVER. But I’m not, at least not really.

I don’t like Kentucky.  I don’t. I don’t like what they represent or what they stand for. Coach John Calipari relishes the fact that he runs a “one and done program”. This year, he started five freshman who will all leave college after only one year.

Blue chip freshman, a.k.a. the best high school players in the Country, fight for the right to play for and wear Kentucky Blue. Why? Because they can and are encouraged to play one year for Coach Cal and then jump to the pros. It’s a known fact and a proven way for some, I said some, to go to the pros and cash in. And the list is long. Nearly 30 former Kentucky players line NBA rosters, with a few teams carrying several Wildcats. And many if not most of them are one and dones, including Karl Anthony-Towns and Anthony Davis and Nerlens Noel and DeMarcus Cousins, just to name a few.

 And if that isn’t enough, Kentucky men’s basketball coach John Calipari announced on Wednesday that every member of his basketball team that is eligible — including the walk-ons — will declare for this year’s NBA Draft.

The announcement sounds shocking, even by the much-maligned Kentucky coach’s standards. And here’s my point: while this system may work for Calipari and the players that are successful in the NBA, is this what college basketball is all about? The Kentucky “system” is certainly not the model or the formula for success for your base and basic college basketball program. Period. 

Kansas State may not have one player who will go on to play in the NBA, much less be successful at the professional level. And that’s fine. March Madness, especially this year, is meant to pit the haves against the have nots. This year above any other year in recent memory, the teams with future NBA talent are destined and doomed to fall to the UMBC’s and the Loyola-Chicago’s and the Kansas-States of the world who have their one shining moment in the NCAA Tournament. And I’m glad.

So, let’s end on a positive note. I’m glad that Kansas State, a Nine Seed and understated underdog, defeated a heavily favored No. 5 Seed in Kentucky, with all of that potential NBA talent and all of those NBA factory prodigies. They won a barn burner of a game that went down to the wire. They won with grit and pluck and spunk and coaching. Good for them. I’m glad. In my humble opinion, this Kentucky team was full of egos and hubris and dare I say prima donnas. They felt that they should win just because. 

And so maybe, just maybe, this Kentucky loss will send a signal that staying in school for more than one year is preferable to going for only one year. In other words, what is the real reason you go to college? In sum, the Kentucky system of being an NBA factory is not the preferred solution for college basketball.

Duke Dismantles Its Own Destiny 

South Carolina Coach

This just in: Duke is done and Villanova is gone. And UVA, Florida State and and Louisville are all gone too. Oregon and North Carolina came back and held on and eeked out tough wins as they survived to sustain their stay at the Big Dance. And Michigan has now survived an aborted airplane takeoff and two fierce opponents as they continue to survive in March; they won, again, and now they’re on their way to the Sweet 16.

Wisconsin beat Villanova, and South Carolina dumped Duke, and they both won because they played one way: hard. Yes you need to play smart, but you still need to play hard. Duke’s  topsy, turvy, up and down, in and out season came to an abrubt halt and a premature end when every thing they’ve done and been through finally caught up with them.

Carolina wasn’t soft or spongy or squishy or squashy. They were firm and fierce and dogged and determined. Likewise, in life we should play and live with heart and smarts and grit and mettle.  And if your opponent plays hard, you just play harder.

That goes for players and coaches alike. While the players need to play hard, coaches need to work just as hard, and that’s what Frank Martin, coach of the South Carolina Gamecocks, did. He cried tears of joy after they defeated Duke, not because he’s soft, but because his players played hard, and I loved every tear.

So be strong. Be stout. Be sturdy. Play and live life one way: hard-nosed and thick skinned. The Urban Dictionary says that hard-nosed is “a tough, straightforward, take-no-prisoners way of carrying oneself. Hard-nosed people may not be sensitive or tactful, but they are gritty and tackle problems head-on.” Amen to that.

And when you’re thick skinned you’re not easily bothered by things and you don’t let your emotions drive the train. That’s my definition. When you’re down, you don’t get down. And when you’re up, you’re still temperate and tolerant. When you have thick skin, you may be passionate, but you’re not really all that emotionally moved or overly sensitive when things don’t go your way.

So don’t take things personally, i.e., “from a personal standpoint or according to your own particular nature or in a subjective rather than an objective way” (Urban Dictionary). Look at the big picture and have eternity in view, because in the end we know we win.

So let’s learn to live every day and every play with the end in mind. Because only the strong know how to play hard and play smart and survive and advance in the Big Dance of life.

The Pain Of Loss

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I just lost my mom. “Loss” is the conventional, politically correct term you use when a loved one or friend passes away. My mom was sick and she died on March 8th, right in the middle of March Madness. So this March, the madness of March was more maddening for me for so many days in so many ways and on so many levels. So that’s why I haven’t been writing or posting for a while.

A loss hurts. A loss burns and bruises and even barks and bites. A loss can break and bend and twist and curve and swerve and nerve your emotions and affections like nothing else can.

For Christians, when someone we know dies, our loved one is not “lost” per se; it’s just that their presence is lost; they’re physically dead and gone to us. And there’s nothing we can do to bring them back. But they’re not lost as if we can’t find them, because we know where they are. However, it’s still a loss of their face and their embrace and their voice and their visits and their laugh and their love.  

While it does not compare — not hardly – the University of Maryland Basketball Team lost. Actually, my team won and lost. They won 27 games, but they lost 9. They began the season 15-1 and finished 14-8, but in March they were 5-3 and they finished the season a woeful 5-6, dating back to that mind bending, nerve numbing, unexplainable, inexplicable loss at lowly Minnesota on February 18th and the home loss to Wisconsin on February 13th.

According to Joshua Needleman of the Diamondback, the University of Maryland’s student run newspaper, “The sentiment for much of the season was when — not if — the Terps started clicking, they’d be unstoppable. They stormed to a 15-1 start even while working through some kinks.”

“Yet in an odd twist, the Terps didn’t get better or wiser over time — like my mom — or like that bottle of Chardonnay residing untouched in the cellar for years. They slowly fell apart, each loss sapping more and more of the fan base’s confidence. There always seemed to be something going awry, a new question that needed an answer.”

In another excellent article written by Alex Kirshner of the TestudoTimes, Kirshner writes “Maryland’s basketball team existed in a weird space this year. The Terps entered the season as a popular national title pick, and they remained so well into February. Even this March, plenty of people thought they had it in them. In the days leading up to the Terps’ season-ending loss to Kansas in the Sweet 16, I’d come around to expecting Maryland to beat the NCAA Tournament’s top overall seed. The Terps had a tantalizing glow about them, even when they weren’t their best.

The Terps wound up winning three times as many games as they lost, finishing 27-9. That’s really good for most programs, and it’s really good for Maryland. The Terps made their first Sweet 16 since 2003, which is quite an achievement. But in the end, why did the season seem so unsuccessful?”

 That’s a question that begs an answer. As with all of the other teams that lost in the NCAA Tournament, we have the hope of next season, and the high expectations of seeing Maryland players go on to the NBA and doing well (but if the underclassmen just came back for one more run!)

With all loses, we must look back, reminisce and recall to mind the mercies of the Lord. We must savor the good and sift through and sift out the bad. My mom was sick — I mean really sick — for the last six months of her life. I watched as she withered away, and the loss of her health and her strength was as hurtful as the loss of her presence.

But the grandkids and my sisters and I have the legacy of her love, many, many, meaningful memories and the wonderful well wishes and the sweet scented sentiments of our family and friends that will carry us till we see her again one day.

Sweet And Sour Sixteen

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My University of Maryland Terrapins are good enough to go all the way. And, at times, they’re bad enough to go nowhere.  That’s the sweetness and sourness of my team. And Jake Layman has been as sweet and sour as they come. No offense to Melo Tribble, but Layman is the lynchpin. As goes Layman, so go the Terps. When he’s hot, they’re hot, and when he’s not, they’re not. So let’s hope that Layman lays it all down and leaves nothing on the court tonight. That would be sweet. They’ve made it to the Sweet 16 and they’re facing the Top Seeded Kansas Jayhawks tonight. At 9:40 pm. So I’m grateful that I’m not going to work tomorrow.

So how ‘bout it? Do you think my Terps stand a chance? Do the pundits and the experts and the sages and the sports scholars think they stand a chance? But does that even matter? For that matter, does what others think about you matter? Of course not! What matters is, do the TERPS themselves think they stand a chance?

And that’s where most of us miss it. We turn sour and we lose our sweetness and freshness and pureness when we crave the praise of men. When we crave adoration and confirmation and affirmation to the point where we wilt and wane and wither and waste away if we don’t get a pat on the back or a smack on the butt, we’re finished before we even begin. Don’t get me wrong; we all need encouragement, but if we don’t get it we should not give up the fight. What matters most is what God says and what we believe about what HE says. I’ll say my own amen on that one. AMEN!

If I were a bettin’ man, I’d bet the house on my Terps. It’s all or nothing. Do or die. Win or go home.  The sweet part of the Sweet 16 is that 16 teams have advanced this far. The sour part is that there are 52 other teams that did not make it this far and wish they could have. That’s a lot of teams. Michigan State is one of them, but let’s not go there, right? And so a lot of other teams went down to the wire but lost at the buzzer. That’s the sour side of sports in general and the Sweet 16 in specific. Someone has to lose. Just don’t let it be you.

The sweet side is that Maryland is one of a few teams that can boast and brag that they’re played good enough at the right time to be on the national stage under the national spotlight and have an outside chance at winning it all. Most importantly, they believe.

And herein lies the lesson. YOU have got to believe for others to believe.  If you don’t think you’ve got what it takes to take what life’s got, then go home now. Go straight home. Do not pass “GO”. Do not collect $200 (a Monopoly Game analogy, for those that remember and love that great game). Facing Kansas could be taken as a sour taste and an offensive smell. But it’s all a part of the package of life. Kansas is the opponent and they must be beat. To sulk at the prospect of facing Kansas is to doubt and to pout when instead the Terps should believe.

That’s it. That’s it right there. First and foremost, you’ve gotta believe. Because faith without works is dead. So, while you’ll have some days that are dark and some hours that are dour and sour, focus and fixate and zero in and put all the money on the sweet taste of victory. Then you’ve got to give it all you’ve got. So play like there’s no tomorrow. And if my Terps don’t there won’t be a tomorrow. At least not for them.  

Decisions, TKO’s and Knockouts

 TeamWVU_cw

Everybody loves a mixed metaphor, right? Right. Well here’s one for the ages. Boxing terms for how to win in the ring are: 1) By Decision; 2) by Technical Knock-Out; and 3) By Knockout. Last night, in the Sweet 16, No. 1 and undefeated Kentucky KO’ed, decisioned and TKO’ed, i.e., they utterly destroyed West Virginia. The score after about 8 minutes was 18-2; the score at half-time was 44-18, and the final score was 78 – 39. That’s a margin of 39 points, and it wasn’t that close. One sports writer said that it was a “public reprimand.” That, sports fans, is a win by decision, technical knock out AND by a knockdown knockout.

Most everybody had Kentucky winning, but not by 39 points! We all thought that West Virginia would give Kentucky a game; but after  their brash and boastful freshman point guard boldly made a moronic miscue with his mouth, it was more than over before the game even began.

So here’s what happened. Freshman guard Daxter Miles Jr. declared that his team would beat Kentucky in the Sweet Sixteen. OK. So if that wasn’t dumb enough, the WAY he said it was even dumber. Dumb and dumber, right? The poor, misguided kid from West Virginia said this, and I quote:

[I] salute them to getting to 36-0. But tomorrow they’re gonna be 36-1.

Talk about being a false prophet. Chris Chase from www.USA.com writes “For The Win.” In his blog, Chris said that there are three rules for making sports predictions as an athlete:

  1. Don’t make predictions.
  2. If you’re going to make a prediction, be the best player on your team about to play in a game against an evenly matched opponent.
  3. Ignore No. 2 and only pay attention to No. 1.

Daxter Miles Jr., (did I say he was a FRESHMAN, meaning he’s got more in his heart than he has between the ears in his head), disobeyed all three of these rules during a talk with the media on Wednesday, making a guarantee that the undefeated Kentucky team, to whom he gave “props” and a “salute” to, would be 36-1 after his Mountaineers were done with them on Thursday night. Wrong answer. And the sad part is that Miles didn’t ever score! Not ‘nare a point! Pitiful.

You can play hard and play smart and just plain play, and still lose. But West Virginia neither played hard nor smart, and got obliterated in the process. I mean! West Virginia got beat up and beat down and beat all around from the jump. Miles’ mouth got his team beat badly, and it didn’t’ have to go down that way. Oh yes, West Virginia probably would have lost to Kentucky, but not like that! It was a good ‘ole fashioned whuppin, and all West Virginia Coach Bob Huggins could do was watch.

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Kentucky is not just a good team, they’re a VERY good team, and some would even say they’re a great team; maybe and possibly the best college team ever? That’s fairly debatable. And for West Virginia to act arrogant and virulent was like waving a red flag in front of a bull. It was like an angry alley cat playing with a rag doll. I mean, the game, and I stayed up to watch this one, was like watching a senior beat up on a sixth grader. It was like the Varsity playing the middle school intramural team. It was like the jocks verses the nerds — with no pads — in the back parking lot littered with broken bottles, bashed in bear cans and busted bricks. And to return to our mixed metaphor, it was like a heavy weight going 15 rounds with a fly weight, minus the mercy rule. In other words, it was pretty ugly.

And so the moral of the story is that “discretion is the better part of valor,” which is usually taken to mean that caution is better than rash courage or that discretion is the best kind of courage. We take this from Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part I when Prince Hal finds the cowardly Falstaff pretending to be dead on the battlefield, the prince assumes he has been killed. After the prince leaves the stage, Falstaff rationalizes “The better part of Valour, is Discretion; in the which better part, I have saved my life.”

So let’s all learn the lesson from Daxter Miles, Jr.; being bold doesn’t mean you have to be stupid. Do your talking on the court.

I’m just sayin’.

A Sweetie of A Sweet 16

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Wow. We’ve got a really sweet-smelling and sweet-scented Sweet 16!

And if you like sweets, this is sugar nirvana for basketball lovers, everywhere. Tonight we’ve got NC/Wisconsin, Wichita State v. Notre Dame, Xavier taking on Arizona and West Virginia trying to KO Kentucky. Friday, March 27, 2015 we’ve got UCLA /Gonzaga, NC St. and Louisville, Utah battling Duke and Michigan St. trying to oust Oklahoma. Whew! What a line up.  And it’s no small feat to reach the Round of 16. There’s not an unsightly dame or an ugly game in the bunch.

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And let’s not forget the ladies; my girls, the University of Maryland Terrapins, have made it to their Sweet 16 and play Duke on Saturday.

It’s curious and almost comical that the NCAA chose to name this round of the NCAA Basketball tournament the “Sweet 16.” It’s taken from the traditional “arrival” of a young lady onto the scene. At 16, tradition teaches that little girls become young ladies and are given a big coming out party. A Sweet 16 Party is a coming out ceremony. It’s a celebration of a coming of age for young girls.

According to http://www.Favorcreations.com, these days, most young girls look forward to their 16th birthday, as they will be given an extravagant party that is much more opulent than previous birthday celebrations.

The Sweet 16 celebration derived from English traditions in the 17th century. When a girl turned 16, she was presented in the royal court, considered a young lady, and could possibly be a suitor for a wealthy man. The idea of having a fancy party for a girl who is turning 16 is believed to have originated in France in the form of debutant balls. These galas served as a way to present the guest of honor as a woman to society, and debutant balls are still held in many parts of the southern United States like Alabama and Louisiana, due to the French cultural influence there.

During a Sweet 16 party, it is common to light 16 candles, not only to represent the young woman’s years of life, but to signify important family and friends that have been a positive influence to her throughout the years. It is customary to add a 17th candle to the teenager’s birthday cake to wish her good luck.

And so, since we don’t believe in luck, we wish all of the teams that reached the Sweet 16 well.

And so what about you?  Are you smelling like a rose or stinking up the house? Have you defeated an old enemy or are you failing the same old tests? Have you driven past that bad habit or are you driving around in circles? How sweet it is to get that “tough out” or to stop that “hot hand.”  How sweet it is to reach a significant milestone or milepost in your life.

Have you come of age and commandeered or conquered anything significant or sizable of late? Achieving a high watermark is no small feat. And so, thank God for all that you are, and for where you are, for it is by the grace of God that we have and hold and handle the heaviness of life. In spite and despite the stink and the stench of the sin and shame that overshadows this celestial sphere, we are to be a sweet-smelling savor to God and to the world as we advance and progress and mature in God.

Now he uses us to spread the knowledge of Christ everywhere, like a sweet perfume.  Our lives are a Christ-like fragrance rising up to God. But this fragrance is perceived differently by those who are being saved and by those who are perishing.  To those who are perishing, we are a dreadful smell of death and doom. But to those who are being saved, we are a life-giving perfume.

2 Corinthians 2:14-16, New Living Translation

Pretty Ugly: We Didn’t Have A Prayer

West Virginia v Maryland
Sports is full of oxymorons. An oxymoron is a figure of speech that juxtaposes elements that appear to be contradictory. Team names like the “Fighting Quakers” comes immediately to mind. And for those that don’t know, Quakers are pacifists, meaning they don’t believe in fighting but instead take “turn the other cheek” quite literally. I went to a Quaker school in Philly (so ask me how I know). And saying we “didn’t have a prayer” is certainly an oxymoron, because there is always hope; but you’re gotta have hope in order for there to be hope. 

Other examples of oxymorons in sports include “boxing ring,” “warming down,” and “forward lateral.” Everyone knows that a boxing “ring” is square, that you warm up when you’re cold, not down, (after a work-out you cool off, but surely I digress) and you can’t go forward and move laterally at the same time. And here’s another one you can add to the list: the Maryland/West Virginia game in the 2015 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament last night was pretty ugly.

The Maryland Terrapins Men’s Basketball Team had a great season with an awful ending. By most standards and all accounts, the Terps over-achieved and over-reached and over-performed and had a record-setting season; they won a ton of games, but just came up short at the end. Unfortunately, their season did not match their play last night.

Last night, oxymorons were everywhere and allusions abounded. The Terps played with sharp dullness and tired energy and sloppy efficiency. They turned the ball over 21 TIMES! Twenty-One times! Seriously? And Melo Trimble got hurt, so any hope of winning went out the door when he went down on the floor. Oh well. But even with Melo the Terps were amazingly unexceptional and happily horrible. Last night was painful and stressful and awful and woeful; on the other hand, the entire length of this all of a sudden short season, a.k.a., the season as a whole, was exciting and exhilarating and thrilling and bone chilling. Go figure. And such is life.

In life you learn to take the good with the bad and the ups with the downs and the wins with the losses. You learn to accept the incongruities and the ambiguities of a good team going cold or a bad team getting hot. It’s called living and dying with your team and loving and hating them simultaneously all at the same time. You have to learn to run slow and walk fast and to be nasty with a smile, all at once.

So keep your heads up, Terp Fans. Dez Wells and Melo Trimble are the ones that got us to the Big Dance, and you’re supposed to dance with the girl that you got, not the one you’re trying to get. And she’s still our “girl” even though the dance last night was pretty ugly. But with Mello and the rest of the freshman coming back, we’re actually sitting pretty.

In sports, there are oodles of oxymorons. There’s crying and amidst and alongside the celebration, because only one team can win the last game of the season. Only one team can walk off of the court and say that they went out on top. And only one team can cut down the nets. So far, Kentucky is still the front-runner, with Duke, Wisconsin, Arizona and Gonzaga all close seconds, nipping at their heels.

And so may the Best Team (Kentucky?) win. But that too, can be an oxymoron. And I borrow this clip from Dan Steinberg of the Washington Post:

The thing to remember about Maryland’s season-ending, 69-59 loss to West Virginia on Sunday night wasn’t the final score. It wasn’t the aesthetics, either; West Virginia’s manic style could make the Harlem Globetrotters look sloppy. And it certainly wasn’t the ending — after Melo Trimble was sidelined by two blows to the head, things fell apart, fans in yellow roaring as the typically composed Terps unraveled.

No, the moment to remember came in the first half, when the Terps were still streaking up and down the court with a lineup featuring Trimble, Dion Wiley, Jared Nickens and Michal Cekovsky. That’s four freshmen, for those without a lineup card, and it speaks to the lasting emotion of this Maryland season: renewed hope.