I'VE LIVED A long time and I've seen a lot of pathetic things. I've seen Kathie Lee Gifford braless (one sincerely hopes, for the last time). I've seen John Travolta belt out a tune on "American Bandstand." I've even seen Republicans celebrating an election victory by attempting to dance to the soulful strains of The 5th Dimension.
I understand that if James Brown ever finds out that I used the word "soulful" in the same sentence as The 5th Dimension, he'll violate the terms of his probation just to come and kick my butt. But I'm trying to make a point here.
By a wide margin, the most pathetic spectacle I've ever witnessed is an annual event, one that is currently in full swing as we slump into the Dog Days. For the past couple weeks and continuing for a couple more, major-college basketball coaches have been gathering in hot, nasty gymnasiums to perpetuate the meat-market approach to college recruiting.
Lute Olson is there, sitting next to Duke's Mike Kzryzewski, who's chatting with Temple's John Cheney. They sit up in the stands, trying to look casual and detached, but having to settle for incredibly stupid instead, as 17-year-olds primp and preen on the floor below them. Even in the dead of summer, Lute Olson looks out of place without a suit on. Lute in warmups is like Richard Nixon in a T-shirt. You just want to tell him something.
The coaches watch and take notes as the New York City Adidas All-Stars score 170 points against the Los Angeles Nike All-Stars, who put up 165. Any kid attempting to play defense or team basketball will be escorted from the gym and have all the free, illegal stuff they got taken away from them.
The team ball concept doesn't really apply, anyway, because these aren't teams. They're loose collections of guys who have been told too many times by too many people that they're special. They're not special because they can read or write better than others, or even that they can read or write at all. For the most part, they're not even special because they can play basketball, which, last I checked, is a team sport.
It doesn't matter that they have no concept of loyalty or team. They're only going to do that dreadful college thing for a year or two until their unofficial agent tells them they're a sure lottery pick in the upcoming NBA draft. And if somebody comes up and asks what high school they go to, they'll have to respond, "You mean last year or next year?
"See, last year's coach didn't appreciate my skiiiillz. Plus, he kept talkin' that yang about homework and sh--. So I had to find me a new school where I could showcase."
Ask one of these clowns why he doesn't play with his high-school teammates during the summer and he'll look at you like you slapped his mama.
So Phonzelle, what high school are you going to in the fall?
"Not sure. I'm still weighin' the offers to see which family my Mom's going to sign guardianship over to."
Which one are you leaning towards?
"I dunno. Saint Somethin'."
What's its mascot?
"I know this one. 'Mas' is what all them other kids sit through at the Catholic school I go to while I get in some extra shooting practice. And 'cot' is what I have to sleep on at Juvie when all the beds are full."
You the man. Good luck at Michigan.
SUMMERTIME HAS become whore season in college basketball, with greasy characters in velour sweatsuits and too many gold chains as the pimps, and the big-time coaches as the all-too-willing johns. (By the way, when you're weighin' two-fifty and the comb-over ain't gettin' it done, "too many gold chains" is defined as one or more.)
It is far and away the most embarrassing ritual in college sports, one that never should have been allowed to evolve and one that should (and, thankfully, probably will) be put to death any day now. It's College Basketball's Dirty Little (Not-So) Secret.
I asked a member of the UA coaching staff one time why he and his homies didn't come out strongly against this revolting process and, in doing so, in favor of some of the traditions that endeared basketball to fans everywhere. He looked me straight in the eye and asked, "What do you want us to do, go back to the days where (college coaches) show up at high-school games and sit up in the corner and watch?"
At the very least, the advent of new technology should make it quite easy to watch prospective players on tape. And please don't give me any gas about time considerations. Football coaches have to recruit seven times as many players as you do, and they do so without the help of summer meat markets or shady shoe company "employees."
Arizona should be at the forefront of the movement to ban this disgusting practice. Ironically, it's former UA Athletic Director (now head of the NCAA) Cedric Dempsey who is pushing college basketball in the right direction, but there is way too much resistance from people who should know better.
I'm the biggest Lute Olson fan in the world (especially since Mr. Kalil lost all that weight). But if Lute doesn't come out against this soon, I'm going to lose a little faith in him. "Because everybody else does it" is never a good excuse.
From day one, I've believed that Lute Olson and his program stood for something. Now, after being stung by the Jason Terry thing, perhaps it's time to make a statement. How 'bout it, Lute? Take a stand against the whoremongers, even if it means losing a few Nike bucks. In the long run, it'll mean a lot more to your fans than closing your practices to the public.