CARBONDALE, Ill. -- It's a day with no games (at least none to attend), and one for catching up on e-mail, writing stories, plugging leaks over at Basketball State and picking up roadtrip supplies at Wal-Mart. It's also probably best that there's a breather after last night's Lazarus act by Southern Illinois, which started out 2-for-7 from the floor and in a 12-4 hole, and ended up blitzing UMass for two bookend runs in the second half. The structure of the 75-67 win was cinematic, but it wasn't even televised.
It's also as good as any day to reflect on non-basketball ephemera. I'm breaking out a new gameday uniform this year, which I hope will be the kind of gimmick to shed my "Mid-Major Guy" thumbnail bio, without actually yielding the territory to competitors. I'm upgrading my look from the standard shirt and tie of years past to a full suit... and a pair of silver Nikes.
Initial reviews have been positive. The UMass beat writers couldn't stop talking about them. When I was at Duke the other day, climbing over the media table to the floor at halftime, a young African-American Cameron Crazie standing nearby in the sardine-can crush called out for my attention. "Hey, where did you get those shoes?" he asked, his eyes wide. I have to tell you, when you're as pale and rhythmless as I am, when a black dude compliments you on your kicks, it's the sweetest feeling in the entire world.
The silver shoes were a birthday gift, from The Official Wife of the Mid-Majority™. Back in May, we went up to the Nike Outlet store up the road in Wareham, Mass.. I was tagging along, this was her shopping trip. She was due to be deployed within the month, and the Navy required running shoes with non-marking soles for physical training ("PT"). It took her a half an hour to find the perfect pair, so I browsed around.
In the running section, there they were. A single pair of brilliant and shiny Air Max sneakers, and they were in my size -- 14. Anybody out there with giant feet knows how difficult it is to find shoes this big, and longtime brand adherents how Nike stores generally keep just one pair of every style in 14, which touches off a massive cutthroat competition amongst us. I slipped the silver shoes on, admired their bounciness and light weight, and went over to where my wife was trying on pair after pair.
"Look at me," I said, mugging and vamping. "I've got shiny shoes!"
My wife rolled her eyes. Then she smiled at the sheer goofiness of them. She asked me if I wanted them for my birthday, and I put up a front, but we quickly came to a resolution.
"I'll get them for you only if you'll wear them," she said. "I can't imagine what kind of situation calls for silver Nikes, though."
I plan to wear my shiny shoes to every game this season, all 125 or so that I attend during 2008-09. It's not some kind of symbolic gesture, like a yellow ribbon or a rubber wristband that's supposed to stand for a cause. I miss my wife dearly, and often find sleep difficult and addled with nightmares, but there will be no Silver Shoes Movement to bring our troops home from Iraq. There are other avenues for those emotions.
When it comes down to it, I wear these silver shoes because they're superfly.✶ ✶ ✶ ✶
I initially got the e-mail in truncated BlackBerry form while in Carbondale traffic yesterday afternoon. "Mock Selection," the subject read. There was some talk about brackets and select writers inside, and I thought it was another of these insider journalists' bracket pools with 25 years of history, a funny name ("The Gerald" or whatnot) and the opportunity to wear some sash around for a year that will make all the other dyed-in-the-woolleds have to buy you drinks. At which time people actually know who I am, they'll stop sending me these invitations -- I have on-the-record recorded opinions
about this practice.
When I scrolled down, the signature bore the mark of the National Collegiate Athletic Association. It turned out that I had been picked to join the 3rd annual mock selection process held by the NCAA in Indianapolis this coming February.
Since 2007, the NCAA basketball committee has chosen 15-20 basketball writers to take part in a crash course in the real Bracketology, a one-day seminar that strives to replicate the four-day selection process. Writers are asked to take the roles of selection committee members, and are asked to complete a bracket that follows all guidelines, using the same equipment and information that the real SC will have. My ESPN colleague Andy Katz was the first virtual committee chair
last year, and Pat Forde joined in too
. Everybody who's been through the process has come out of it with a deeper understanding and newfound respect for the committee's job.
I will be one of those writers three months from now, and will be holed up in a conference room at the Westin Hotel as we attempt to hammer out a 65-team Dance card. I'm overwhelmed and humbled at the opportunity. The NCAA does a lot of things wrong, but this is something that's very, very right -- an exercise in transparency that brings about greater understanding of a process that's nearly impossible to understand from the outside.
It should be pointed out, once again, that I started in this business as a blogger. I was a computer systems analyst five years ago. In a lot of ways, I didn't inherit the opportunities that I continually receive, and I've tried to work hard enough to deserve them. This is just another example, and I may be the first non-traditional basketball journalist to take part in this mock selection process. I am fairly certain I'm the first non-member of the U.S. Basketball Writers Association, a back-slapping mutual-appreciation society I've vowed never to join. I'm also not a bracketologist -- there are plenty of those.
But I go into this as somebody who wants to learn all I possibly can, and I take this very seriously. I'll bring a file folder full of persuasive arguments for the mid-major teams that deserve recognition, but I'll also be leaning on my power-conference friends beforehand to fill me in on what I don't know. I want to know and understand, and will try my hardest to honor this process.
I also want to pass along everything I see in there to you, so that you can go into Selection Sunday as informed and enlightened about the process as possible. There will be 10,000-word blogs, Q and A's, tweets and chats, and I will answer each and every question that's brought to me, from fans and bracketologists alike. That's my job, after all.
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