I watched the Duke-UNC game at Kenan Stadium in Chapel Hill with two friends, one of whom was French and still a little rusty on the rules of football. It took a while, for instance, to explain why a team would ever choose to decline a penalty. That established, I turned to the cultural side, and told her that Duke-Carolina was the politest rivalry in the country. I attributed that to either extreme proximity or regional decorum or the fact that the chief sport of contention was basketball, a kinder, more philosophical game. But she had been at UNC long enough to disagree; "everyone here hates Duke."
This year of college hoops is already ridiculous. Everyone is fun, the good teams are all stacked, and there are too many stars to even keep track of on any given night. This is why I was huddled over a laptop at 5:30 in the afternoon in L.A. yesterday, watching two grainy ESPN3 feeds at the same time and going nuts for Joel Embiid. We kicked things off with that fever dream in Chicago, but Freshman Watch got real this week.
Every big name played Tuesday, giving us a nice little slice of the madness to come.
In case you were busy demanding a recount of People’s Sexiest Man Alive voting, here's what you missed in sports on Tuesday:
Rodney Stuckey scored 21 points off the bench as the Detroit Pistons heaped more woe onto the New York Knicks with a 92-86 win. Meanwhile, in Bayside, Queens, a father and his son watched the game together. "I hope the Knicks win!" the boy exclaimed, long after it was clear the Knicks were certainly not going to win. "Remember, son," the father said as the clock wound down. "Hope is a dangerous thing. Hope can drive a man insane." The father then grabbed his boy by the shoulders. "That's why we watch the Knicks. Not to win. We never win. But to remember not to hope. Never hope, my boy. Promise me you'll never hope."
In front of a star-studded audience in Stillwater, including Kevin Durant, sophomore Marcus Smart put up 39 points as Oklahoma State throttled Memphis 101-80. "Man, there are so many kids out there this year," the 19-year-old Smart said after the game. "Think they know what's up. They don't." Smart, who is 12 months older than Jabari Parker, then added, "I get it, I was that age once." Smart shook his head, age having worn his face visibly, and added, "But now I know about the real world. About hard work, discipline. I've been in college for a whole year, man. I've traveled all over Big 12 country. I took Art History 104. Shit. The things I know, I could write a 1,500-word paper on them. These kids? They'd be lucky to pump out 800 words. Lucky."
I had a chance to be in Chicago on Tuesday night to cover the college basketball games for Grantland, and I said no for two reasons. First, because most early-season college basketball showcases are sloppy and a little bit depressing. Second, because after the months of obsession over Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, and Julius Randle, there's no way they could possibly live up to it.
People were comparing Wiggins to Durant and McGrady. Jabari Parker was supposed to be Paul Pierce and Glenn Robinson, and Julius Randle was the closest thing people had seen to LeBron.
There were 80 NBA scouts in attendance last night, which is a reminder that (a) NBA teams probably waste SO MUCH money scouting players they'll never have a chance to draft, and (b) this has all gotten kind of ridiculous. The United Center sold out the stadium Tuesday, and tickets for what was basically a preseason basketball exhibition were going for $750 apiece. We were due for a letdown.
But then all the players in Chicago made me look like an idiot.
If we’re going off StubHub, which is the objective arbiter of all things hype, last night’s Champions Classic was one of the most anticipated basketball showcases in recent history. So while the basketball turned out so good that people seem to be overlooking the fact that the games were choppy whistle bonanzas, I was there for more anthropological reasons. To Chicago:
College basketball is back, and life finally makes sense again. Questions like "Where did all my money go?" and "Why am I such a disappointment?" and "How did I end up in this Dumpster?" no longer matter. Nothing matters, actually. Our salvation has arrived, and if you think I'm being overly dramatic, then you can get the HELL out of my Dumpster, pal.
As the headline on this post suggests, I recommend that you all take out the paper calendars you use to help remember when to watch sports (mine is the flip kind with autumnal photos above each month), and find a good, reliable pen, because you'll want to write this down. Below, I've listed the best possible games from each of the next seven days, along with some honorable mentions. Consider this your weeklong immersion guide. And it starts, as it should, in the mecca of the sport …
You can't go very far these days without hearing a sports fan say, "I can't wait until college basketball starts." I'm not sure why they keep mispronouncing it as "football" — it must be a joke I missed, or a meme, or something — but the anticipation in the air is palpable. We're still a few months away from tip-off, though, so here are a few bits of news you may have missed during the long offseason. November's coming!
On a Scale From 1 to Johnny Manziel, P.J. Hairston's Idiot Ranking Is 8
With all his noteworthy teammates opting for the draft, P.J. Hairston was set to be North Carolina's primary star in 2013. You could argue he was last season, too, when the sophomore guard led the team with 14.6 points per game while averaging just 23 minutes, and shot nearly 40 percent from 3. Everything about his game improved from his freshman season, and he'll arguably be the best pure scorer in the ACC this year.
In case you were busy spending your holiday weekend reeling after rewatching Independence Day only to discover that, Pullman and Goldblum aside, it's a pretty bad film, here's what you missed in sports over the July 4 weekend:
Houston secured the coup of the NBA free-agent season, procuring All-Star center Dwight Howard's services for the next four years, on an $88 million deal. "It was tough to make my decision, but finally, at the end of the day, I had to say to myself, 'Houston, we don't have a problem,'" Howard said with a smirk as he discussed the deal publicly for the first time. "Get it? Apollo 13? They were all like, 'Houston, we have a problem.' Man, remember how funny that movie was?" When met with dumb stares, Howard added, "I mean, they were all good options. Being a free agent, though, is like a box of chocolates — you never know what you're gonna get." Howard then paused for laughs that weren't coming. "Forrest Gump! Come on! God, getting laughs from you guys is harder than the president with Monica Lewinsky. I mean, you guys are tougher than Judge Ito on Marcia Clark. Is this thing even on? Someone tell me how raunchy I'm being. Someone tell me that now, so I can be all like,'Oh, behave!' Now! I am Dwight Howard, funniest man in basketball, and I will not let my big free agency move fail to get me laughs! Someone set me up for a classic Mike Myers one-liner, now!" Howard then sighed and added, "Screw it, I'm going back to L.A."
Are you a total lacrosse agnostic who happened to catch Duke making a veritable Cinderella run to the 2013 title this past Memorial Day weekend? Did you enjoy it even though you were just killing time before an NBA playoff game, or at least a point in the afternoon when you felt comfortable enough to start drinking? We can be honest with each other: It probably didn’t make you feel too good about yourself, and not just because it involved Duke winning at anything.
Lacrosse has an unctuous-at-best, sociopathic-at-worst reputation, a reputation that is both earned and somewhat overstated. Even as a recent convert whose white-boy high school didn’t field a team, I’ll fully concede to the outsider view of it as an athletic pursuit defined by arcane rules, arrogance, and elitism — in other words, everything people hate about college athletics combined with everything people hate about the college fraternity system.
After months of waiting on Andrew Wiggins, the best high school basketball player in the country, to make his college-destination decision and set off an aftershock throughout college hoops and beyond, we are finally (almost) there. On Sunday, his high school coach at Huntington Prep (West Virginia) announced the announcement (isn't recruiting fun?!).
Andrew Wiggins will sign Tuesday at around 12:15. He will not hold a press conference type ceremony. Just classmates, family and friends
In case you were busy planning the ultimate prank (hint: you need Krazy Glue, a dozen Krispy Kreme Doughnuts, and three rubber snakes), here's what you missed in sports last weekend.
Despite a gruesome leg injury to reserve forward Kevin Ware, Louisville knocked off Duke, 85-63, to book a spot in the Final Four. "Man, that's the worst thing that I've ever seen on a basketball court," said Louisville coach Rick Pitino at his postgame press conference, "and I'm not talking about the refereeing. Zing. But seriously, I'm just gutted by what I saw today. Really soul-shaking stuff out there. And not just the refereeing — I'm sorry, I just can't stop zinging those guys. I know this isn't the time. Much as it wasn't the time for them to call a foul on every play right after Kevin hurt his leg. Damn it! Must. Stop. Zinging. Refs."
Brittney Griner and the Baylor Lady Bears were shocked by the Louisville Cardinals in the regional semifinals of the Women's NCAA Tournament, 82-81. "Can you dunk away the tears?" Griner asked her teammates after the game, before a horrifying wave of loneliness washed over her as she realized she was the only person in the room who could answer that question. Griner was later seen, alone in the deserted Chesapeake Energy Arena, yelling, "I feel nothing!" as she dunked ball after ball through the unguarded nets.
Trying to guess the legitimacy of the Indiana Hoosiers has been a season-long brain teaser, and I've consistently taken the "overrated" side of the debate. Every time it looked like I might be right, as with the near-loss to Georgetown and the losses to Butler, Wisconsin, and Illinois, the Hoosiers would do something spectacular, like decimate North Carolina or soundly beat Ohio State or Michigan State on the road. And each time they began to look like a dominant team bound for a title, there'd be a worrisome hiccup that made you think they couldn't win six critical games in March.
I got a ton of e-mails this week and most of them were worth publishing, but I decided to limit the number to 16 in honor of the upcoming Sweet 16. Let’s get down to business.
Who do you see as the favorites to win it all, and why? Also, who has disappointed you? Between Florida Gulf Coast, Oregon, and La Salle, which team is your favorite Cinderella story? Also, who do you think has the best chance of going far and why?
Never mind. I guess I’ll answer 19 questions.
Louisville is the favorite right now, with Duke and Florida close behind. They’re the only teams that have been at the top of the polls all season and also looked dominant in their first two games. The obvious omission is Michigan, which has been highly ranked all year and just thrashed VCU. But I want to see how the Wolverines handle Kansas before I jump back on their bandwagon. The VCU win was impressive, but the Rams' style of play is possibly the worst approach against Michigan. If the Wolverines dispatch the Jayhawks, they’ll be favorites, too. But if they lose, I would have a hard time considering them contenders for the national title.
The obvious disappointments are Gonzaga and Georgetown. Both have histories of getting bounced early, but I thought this year would be different because of Kelly Olynyk and Otto Porter. I was wrong.
Finally, Oregon is the best double-digit seed remaining, La Salle has the easiest path to the Final Four of the three Cinderellas, and Florida Gulf Coast is the underdog most likely to say “Screw it, let’s go get shitfaced and party on the beach” after it loses.
I tend to root for Duke University in the NCAA basketball tournament. They’re not my favorite team, but I’m happy when they succeed. People are sometimes mystified by this affinity, since the Internet has conditioned us to believe we’re ethically obligated to hate every player who has ever contributed to that particular program. As such, on days like today, I am often asked, “Why do you root for Duke? Why would anyone root for Duke?”
America rarely ever gets things wrong. It’s a country that's brought the world professional wrestling, the KFC Double Down, Kenny Powers, and America. But sometimes — daylight saving time, Taylor Hicks, pull-ups being included in the requirements for winning the Presidential Physical Fitness Award — America gets it horribly wrong. It pains me to say it, but Christian Laettner beating Tyler Hansbrough in a landslide to claim the title of the most hated college basketball player in the last 30 years is one of those times.
“But,” you’re probably saying, “Laettner winning this contest was obvious from the start. I’m not even sure why you guys bothered putting together the bracket. If Laettner had gone to North Carolina or Kentucky, there’s a good chance that they’d be the most hated team in college basketball. The man is almost solely responsible for Duke’s reputation, which is why if I were putting together a starting five of the most hated players in the last 30 years, Laettner would be all five.”
Look, I get it. Laettner's easy to hate. If you don’t hate him for being a pretty boy preppy who still somehow managed to be the best player in college basketball, you hate him for stomping on Aminu Timberlake’s chest. You hate him because of The Shot, or you hate him because this picture exists. All of these are valid reasons to hate the guy. And honestly, I might hate him, too, for all of these reasons. Except that I don’t hate him because one important thing trumps all of that: Christian Laettner was a benchwarmer for the greatest basketball team ever assembled, which makes him a demigod to guys like me.