Sunday, March 27, 2016

Dear Basketball Fans: There is more than one way to...

There are many versions of the same metaphor:
  • There is more than one way to skin a cat.
  • There is more than one way to carve a turkey.
And to add a third version, 
  • There is more than one way for Notre Dame men's basketball to win a game. 
Their journey to the Elite Eight might be something akin to making sausage. You don't really want to see how it's done, but the end product can and should elicit but one word, "wow!"  

Above and beyond the excitement of March Madness, basketball is a great game because it's easy to understand. Unlike football with first downs, running clocks, off sides and a host of other penalties or baseball with its crazy scoring system, basketball takes little if any smarts for the average viewer to appreciate. Orange sphere must fall through a hoop with a dangling net. This feat is completed in a number of exciting, dramatic, flashy or practical ways from various distances. The points each team earns are visible on an understated scoreboard. 

All of that is true...and not true. 

Anyone who really knows hoops sees the intricacies and complexities woven in the offense and defense. Man to man or zone defense is JV, try a "box and one" or a "nickel defense" and now we are talking. Maybe you caught the moving screen or the offensive charge before the referee did. And maybe you didn't...but you still have an opinion about it. Here's my recommendation, as a fan of the someone who knows how much they don't know, once again I am going to advocate for humility.

I say this in particular to my fellow Notre Dame fans and alums. We are in the Elite Eight for the first time in back to back seasons since 1978-1979. Perhaps the carving or the skinning wasn't pretty, but we did it. Here are a few ways we can reframe our complaints and enhance the experience of other basketball teams everywhere.

All recommendations are based on what I heard at the Irish Times in San Francisco—the official game watch locale of the SFND alumni chapter.
1. "Thanks for showing up in the fourth quarter Demetrius."
Though true—Jackson went 1-for-9 and scored two points in the first half (not his typical showing), it feels much different than a back handed compliment. I understand the frustration, but I just don't see the point in bagging on the player who was awarded "Outstanding Playmaker (2015)" especially when he had two layups, two steal, two free throws and a key steal late in the game. Furthermore, I'm not sure that most fans sitting on their couches, sectionals or with me at Irish Times understands the level of competition in which these men (and women) participate. Jackson a 6'1" guard was up against players who had not only 50 lbs on him, but six to eight inches of height. 

Maybe you could say something like "thank God Jackson turned it up in the fourth." And a great story in the New York Times will only make you root for him that much more.
2. Why doesn't Coach Brey wear a tie?
I can't tell you how often I get asked this question; at least he's no longer sporting the mock turtleneck. Seriously? The man is a three time Big East Coach of the year, CBS and Sports Illustrated's National Coach of the year and led ND to the ACC tournament championship, which they won and we want to discuss his choice of apparel?

Frankly, I don't understand why basketball coaches wear suits and ties, period. When I attended the De La Salle boys' Nor Cal semi-final game, I noticed that the head coach and his assistants were wearing matching DLS polo shirts, khakis and athletic shoes. I thought they looked very professional and sharp. I don't think they compromised the game to any degree by not dressing up. Rather, they were comfortable and prepared to do what they are supposed to do: coach. 

3. Zach Auguste is too emotional
One of my favorite moments during the game was with but six seconds left and Notre Dame up by five points and possession of the ball, the 6'10" forward was removed from the game. Sitting on the bench, he put his head in his towel and let all of his emotions go. He hid his face in a towel and let the water works flow. This should not be a point of criticism; I think the man who said that is made of teflon.

I learned from the "Washington Post" article, incidentally titled "Why Mike Brey Doesn't Wear His Turtleneck Anymore," that coach and athlete worked together—to channel emotions, and passion into an even greater force.
The connection allows Brey to reach players, and even chastise them, in deeper ways than many coaches. Coming into this season, he wanted fiery center Zach Auguste to harness his passion, which last year led to him breaking his hand punching a basket stanchion. Brey prepared film clips, from both games and practices, of Auguste showing bad body language after a bad play. The pair sat and studied them in his office. “I was a type of an emotional player and sometimes I let it get the best of me,” Auguste said. “But over the course of the past few years I learned to channel it in a positive way and really use it to play my game at a high level.”
That high level translates to over an impressive stat: Zach Auguste trails only Ben Simmons for most double-double games this season (22 games). Cry all you want Zach, thanks for bringing all of who you are to what is undoubtedly an exciting, impressive program. You are a significant reason for that.
For so many years, it was painful to watch ND in the NCAA tourney. The past two years have felt surreal. As disappointing as last year's loss to Kentucky was, that game lives on as one of the best (and most watched) in tourney history. I know my loyalty to the Irish is fierce. I know I am not an objective bystander but I challenge fans everywhere to enjoy the ride. Don't lose sight of what these non-professional athletes and their coaches are giving their life to. I'll speak for myself here—it gives me life. 

Happy Easter! 

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