Jimmy V Classic
As a native Tucsonan living in New York City, watching the University of Arizona Wildcats play live at MSG is wonderful—if not for the exciting full-court college basketball action, then for the chance to see the kooky Arizonans in all their dorky splendor. As a rule, Tucsonans and Arizonans have a massive collective inferiority/underdog complex; so playing on the game’s biggest stage in the country’s media center is especially sweet.
In fact, AZ has a 5-1 record in MSG. It’s a chance to show that Arizona is more than exploding meth labs and born-again border-guarding vigilante groups, that we can, in fact, recruit the best players from California to serve a one- to two- year apprenticeship before being drafted into the NBA.
(Am I conflating pressing social issues with the mindless circus that is college athletics? Yes. Go Cats, dammit)
Also, it’s a chance to see Lute Olson’s hair up close. It’s a perfect snowy white helmet.
In every way, the Jimmy V Classic did not disappoint. The “Classic” featured a pair of back-to-back nationally televised games, the first of which was Syracuse vs. Oklahoma State (subtext: wine-sipping lefty hippies vs. red state nascar hicks), followed by Arizona vs. Louisville (subtext: exploding meth labs vs. Appalachian oxycontin addictions). Some notes and observations:
-After arriving at the Garden and slogging through the swarms of already drunk Syracuse grads, my first thought is “Boy, I’d sure like to spend $7.50 on some warm, flat beer.” After homeboy pours my Heine, he asks if I’d like a straw, suggesting that drinking beer in that way “gets you drunk more quickly.” Why not?
-Literally everyone in my section (behind OSU bench) is wearing bright, traffic-cone orange shirts. A small cache of orange-clad OSU fans seem confused that ‘Cuse fans would also be wearing orange… Does not compute.
-The only semi-compelling players in this matchup are Syracuse’s Eric Devendorf, who looks slow, distracted and barely plays, and Okla. St.’s Marcus Dove, who does the “birdman” hand gesture after dunking. In fact, his whole team does it, even while running back on defense. It’s quaint, but really people, the only people who have the right to throw the “birdman” sign are Cash Money rapper Baby aka Birdman and former Nugget/Hornet Chris Andersen, currently serving a 3-year banishment from the NBA for drug-related infractions. “BRRRRRR…the bird just landed so the hood gonna rock.” Great track, still.
-The entire Louisville team walks out and sits directly behind me and my fellow Zonites. The trash-talking possibilities are ripe, especially as Lville’s team chaplain (presumably Catholic…? Pitino…?) is sitting with the team. They seem like nice guys, though, so we keep it to a minimum. When Arizona super-frosh/golden boy Chase Budinger walks through the crowd, I turn to Cardinal forward Terence Williams and tell him, politely, “You see that guy right there? He’s going to give you a lot of buckets. Better to accept it now.” He nods politely.
-OSU proves to be the smarter, tougher team, with a cadre of 6-5 to 6-7 athletes who simply out-work, out-hustle, out-pass and out-class Team Carmelo. Boeheim’s zone is wack and highly touted frosh Paul Harris does more harm than good with his crooked jumpshot. The icing is a cold-blooded three by JamesOn Curry, whose first name presumably has nothing to do with Jameson Scotch. See, the “o” is capitalized, that’s how you know.
-Jim Valvano’s "Don't Give Up, Don't Ever Give Up" speech from the 1993 ESPY Awards plays on the overhead marquee between games. Clearly Valvano was a real cool guy and a great coach, but let’s not forget that he never would’ve won a title if Hakeem had moved 5 inches to his left and nudged Lorenzo Charles on that retarded put-back dunk (one of the dumbest endings to a big game ever). Phi Slamma Jamma should’ve won that title.
-Provoked partly by guilt over the above line of thought, I decide to contribute to Valvano’s V Foundation for Cancer Research by buying a couple more warm, flat, overpriced beers (which will ironically create cancer in my liver – it’s a cycle).
-The place practically clears out, all the disconsolate ‘Cuse fans presumably heading to various crappy pubs to cry in their beers and curse Devendorf’s name.
-Now the real game begins… and Nate Robinson is in the house. Also in the crowd: Renaldo Balkman (wearing a nifty matching jean/jacket outfit, clearly enjoying his first round paychecks), Mike Jarvis, Danny Ferry (who signed David Wesley this offseason to play with LeBron…), Richard Jefferson and Channing Frye.
-As is their wont, AZ scores at will in the first half and clearly have the more talented team… but they can’t defend worth a lick and Lville keeps it close. AZ goes on a 20-2 run to close the half, Ivan Radenovic stroking jumpers, Budinger looking like a white Paul Pierce (more on him later), Mustafa Shakur pushing the tempo, Jawann McLellan doing everything else. But they still only lead by 10 at halftime. Should be up 20.
-Dick Vitale gives a bizarre, rambling “tribute” to Valvano and people with cancer. Vitale was funny 15 years ago, now he’s just the new Harry Carey.
-Budinger. In a recent game against Illinois, ESPN announcer Jay Bilas compared him to Tom Chambers and former BYU forward Michael Smith. What?! Smith was a slow, boring, totally conventional stiff who was universally regarded as the worst draft pick that Red Auerbach ever made. Even Auerbach admitted it. And Chambers was a 6-10 jump shooter and fast-break lane filler, a totally different player. WHY IS IT THAT WHITE PLAYERS ARE ONLY COMPARED TO OTHER WHITE PLAYERS, AND VICE-VERSA??? This drives me nuts. Budinger is nothing like Smith—he has ridiculous hops, a smooth, fluid handle and an advanced understanding of how to play correctly (on offense, anyway). If anything, he’s more akin to someone like Ray Allen, Tracy McGrady or Glenn Robinson. And while I’m on that subject: Chris Paul plays like John Stockton, Ron Artest plays like Jerry Sloan, Kobe plays like Rick Barry and Adam Morrison is NOTHING like Larry Bird, dammit. He’s more like Walter Davis. Or Hubert Davis. Somewhere in between Walter and Hubert. And another thing: Morrison does not look like a country hick or a “rocker.” For anyone who’s been to France, you’ll know that he looks more like Parisian hipster trash. All that’s missing is the Gaulois hanging off the lip.
-AZ goes brick-ass cold in the second half and gives up their lead, but eventually wise-up, burn clock and make enough free-thows to pull away. Lville has a scrappy, grinding team, they deserve credit for staying in it as long as they did, but they have a serious dearth of talent. Their big recruit, Derrick Caracter, in certainly physically imposing but does nothing extraordinary and fouls out. He should’ve scored 25 points against Radenovic on the block. Overrated.
-The game ends around midnight with a semi-rowdy clutch of AZ fans hanging around ‘til the very end, hurling love at Lute and insults at Pitino. Best overheard Pitino insult: “You traded Chauncey Billups and drafted Acie Earl. You ruined the Celtics!”
-One last thought: the “DJing” in the Garden during stops in play was atrocious. It’s bad during Knick games, but an absolute abortion during college bball games. Just random hip-hop tracks, jock jams, bad house, 80s pop, arena rock, Ini Kamoze’s “Here Comes the Hotstepper” (dope, actually), all just arbitrarily thrown together, with nary a cross-fade or beat-match. Terrible, jarring. Attn Dolans: I will do a better job DJing for free. Hook it up! You gave Jerome James 30 million! Just contact the esteemed administrator of this website and let’s get it on.
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