I confess to really, really enjoying college basketball. My watching is pretty much limited to viewing games – or snippets of games – on television. I’m interested in checking scores during the evenings of the season and keeping track of Division I national rankings.
Though undersized and lacking skills to play basketball beyond elementary school, I practiced a lot on our makeshift half court at home and couldn’t wait for the annual church-league tip-off in my hometown.
I had dreams of catching a growth spurt one day and maybe getting a chance to excel in the sport I loved – and still love. Alas, for all basketball purposes, I remained a runt of limited roundball skills. The vertical growth spurt never came. I stopped dreaming about it 40-plus years ago.
My younger brother texted me a few days ago to say that Rend Lake College in southern Illinois was getting ready to play for the Division II national junior college championship. The news interested me because I began my college work at the school. In addition, my father had been employed there. I imagined that the news had made it to heaven and that my late father was leading a cheer for the Warriors.
A Division II JUCO (NJCAA) national championship game isn’t really national sports news. I couldn’t find anything about it online or on TV. Fortunately, my brother saw results of the big game locally the next day and reported the final score to me: 87-69. Our team had won. One of the Verhines brothers from the little community of Woodlawn near where I grew up was named Most Valuable Player, while his brother and fellow starter won the sportsmanship award for the tournament.
Admittedly, I had not kept track of my school’s basketball progress. I finished undergraduate work at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, and I still monitor the progress (or lack thereof) of the Salukis from season to season. They’ve not had too many “up” moments since Walt Frazier led the Salukis to the National Invitational Tournament championship decades and decades ago.
For the past several years living in Missouri, I’ve embraced the Tigers of Mizzou and have lived and died with them from season to season.
I keep up with Louisville, too. During my seminary years, the Cardinals there nabbed their first national title (1980). I’ve been a distant fan ever since. They’ve had a big-time program for many years and, at this writing, seem poised to win their third national championship. I have mixed feelings about their semifinal game on Saturday. They play Wichita State University, a member of the Missouri Valley Conference, which also includes my alma mater SIU and, of course, Missouri State University.
In the sport of Goliaths (so to speak), it is hard not to root for the occasional David who makes its way onto the big stage.
I suppose I’m a fan of several basketball programs mostly because I enjoy the sport and seeing it played at various levels, especially when one of my sons or grandchildren is involved.
Like most sports, basketball is a microcosm of life. Sometimes we see life at its worst on the court; sometimes, life at its richest. When Louisville player Kevin Ware shattered his leg in a freakish fall the other day, a raucous partisan crowd set aside thoughts of the game momentarily and was caught up in a human drama.
Throughout the rest of the game, more than half of it, no one forgot about the young man undergoing surgery at a downtown Indianapolis hospital, even though the winner of the game would play a week later in the Final Four.
Sometimes in the games of life or in the work of life, or in the life of the church, we need to be reminded of what is most important. And sometimes it surprises us.
Bill Webb is editor of Word&Way.